Coelho’s definition of a writer

This is a repost of an entry published in my former blog September last year:

I just finished reading Paulo Coelho’s book Like the Flowing River: Thoughts and Reflections, which is a compilation of his short stories written from 1998 to 2005. The collection didn’t stand out like Zhang Jie’s As Long as Nothing Happens Nothing Will, another book I read a month and a half ago. Still, I consider the handy paperback a good read for its inspirational value. Those who love Coelho should go buy this book.

My favorite part in Coelho’s new book is the preface where he recounts how he explained his dream of becoming a writer to his skeptical mother. This is Coelho’s amusing definition of a writer when he was still fifteen:

(a) A writer always wears glasses and never combs his hair. Half the time he feels angry about everything and the other half depressed. He spends most of his life in bars, arguing with other disheveled, bespectacled writers. He says very ‘deep’ things. He always has amazing ideas for the plot of his next novel, and hates the one he has just published.

(b) A writer has a duty and obligation never to be understood by his own generation; convinced, as he is, that he has been born into an age of mediocrity… A writer revises and rewrites each sentence many times. The vocabulary of the average man is made up of 3,000 words; a real writer never uses any of these, because there are another 189,000 in the dictionary, and he is not the average man.

(c) Only other writers can understand what a writer is trying to say. Even so, he secretly hates all other writers, because they are always jockeying for the same vacancies left by the history of literature over the centuries. And so the writer and his peers compete for the prize of ‘most complicated book’: the one who wins will be the one who has succeeded in being the most difficult to read.

(d) A writer understands about things with alarming names, like semiotics, epistemology… When he wants to shock someone, he says things like: ‘Einstein is a fool,’ or ‘Tolstoy was the clown of the bourgeoisie.’ Everyone is scandalized, but they nevertheless go and tell other people that the theory of relativity is bunk, and that Tolstoy was a defender of the Russian aristocracy.

(e) When trying to seduce a woman, a writer says: ‘I’m a writer,’ and scribbles a poem on a napkin. It always works.

Dada thinks this is not applicable anymore today – especially for a generation which he observes as afflicted with an aversion of “culture.” Speaking from experience, perhaps?

(f) Given his vast culture, a writer can always get work as a literary critic. In that role, he can show his generosity by writing about his friends’ books. Half of any such reviews are made up of quotations from foreign authors and the other half of analyses of sentences, always using expressions such as ‘the epistemological cut,’ or ‘an integrated bi-dimensional vision of life.’ Anyone reading the review will say: ‘What a cultivated person,’ but he won’t buy the book because he’ll be afraid he might not know how to continue reading when the epistemological cut appears.

And my favorite point:

(g) When invited to say what he is reading at the moment, a writer always mentions a book no has ever heard of… ■



  1. A writer believes they have found truth. They can’t quite put it to paper in a way that everyone else gets it, but they are compelled to continue and try.

    Dr. Tom Bibey

  2. I used to have a book from,loving and learning..given to me by a friend long long ago..i love coelho but i just stopped reading books, the last book i read was “The alchemist”..i love it..

    For me a writer writes what is dictated by his heart. not everybody can be a writer…and not all the time, a writer can write..

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