Writers Write is a resource for writers. In this post, we share some of Isabel Allende’s writing process from her own words.
Allende, who is a novelist, feminist, and philanthropist, is one of the most widely-read authors in the world, having sold more than 74 million
She has authored more than 23 bestselling and critically acclaimed books, including Of Love and Shadows, Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune, Paula, and In the Midst of Winter. Her books have been translated into more than 42 languages. Allende is known for entertaining and educating readers by interweaving imaginative stories with significant historical events.
She has received 15 honorary doctorates, including one from Harvard University, and the PEN Center Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Allende the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour. She received Chile’s National Literature Prize in 2010.
We found out about her writing process on her website and we wanted to share it with you.
Isabel Allende’s Writing Process – In Her Own Words
- On January 8, 1981, I was living in Venezuela and I received a phone call that my beloved grandfather was dying. I began a letter for him that later became my first novel, The House of the Spirits. It was such a lucky book from the very beginning that I kept that lucky date to start.
- January 8th is a sacred day for me. I come to my office very early in the morning, alone. I light some candles for the spirits and the muses. I meditate for a while. I always have fresh flowers and incense. And I open myself completely to the experience that begins in that moment. I never know exactly what I’m going to write. I may have finished a book months before and may have been planning something, but it has happened already twice that when I sit down at the computer and turn it on, another thing comes out. It is as if I was pregnant with something, an elephant’s pregnancy, something that has been there for a very long time, growing, and then when I am able to relax completely and open myself to the writing, then the real book comes out. I try to write the first sentence in a state of trance, as if somebody else was writing it through me. That first sentence usually determines the whole book. It’s a door that opens to an unknown territory that I have to explore with my characters. And slowly, as I write, the story seems to unfold itself, in spite of me. It just happens.
- I spend ten, twelve hours a day alone in a room writing. I don’t talk to anybody. I don’t answer the telephone. I’m just a medium or an instrument of something that is happening beyond me, voices that talk through me. I’m creating a world that is fiction but that doesn’t belong to me. I’m not God; I’m just an instrument. And in that long, very patient daily exercise of writing I have discovered a lot about myself and about life. I have learned. I’m not conscious of what I’m writing. It’s a strange process—as if by this lying-in-fiction you discover little things that are true about yourself, about life, about people, about how the world works.
- I take notes all the time. I have a notebook in my purse and when I see or hear something interesting, I make a note. I cut clippings from newspapers and write notes about the news I hear on TV. I write notes on stories that people tell me. When I start a book I pull out all these notes because they inspire me. I write directly on my computer using no outline, just following my instinct. Once the story has been told on the screen, I print it for the first time and read it. Then I know what the book is about. The second draft deals with language, tension, tone, and rhythm.
- When I develop a character I usually look for a person who can serve as a model. If I have that person in mind, it is easier for me to create characters that are believable. People are complex and complicated—they seldom show all the aspects of their personalities. Characters should be that way too. I allow the characters to live their own lives in the book. Often I have the feeling that I don’t control them. The story goes in unexpected directions and my job is to write it down, not to force it into my previous ideas.
Source for author photo.
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TIP: If you want help writing a book, buy The Novel Writing Exercises Workbook.