Let’s explore the writings of Isabel Allende, the first female author from South America to reach a worldwide audience.
Her writings are entwined with magic realism and feminism, of independence and justice.
Ms. Allende’s writings make for a very engaging study on writing and she has inspired many women writers like Amy Tan.
Let’s explore her life and advice for writers.
Isabel Allende’s Life
Isabel Allende is a Chilean American writer born on August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru and grew up in Santiago, Chile.
As a young married woman with children, she worked as a translator, translating Barbara Cartland, a television personality and journalist. She also worked translating romance novels into Spanish but was fired after she “rewrote” dialogue of the female characters to be more intelligent and independent.
After a Chilean coup, she fled to Venezuela. This was when she wrote her first novel The House of the Spirits in 1982. Since then she has written twenty-three novels, several non-fiction books, and three memoirs – all written in her native Spanish and have been translated into 35 different languages.
She has received fifteen honorary doctorates, many awards including the PEN Center Lifetime Achievement Award, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.
She currently resides in California and just released her latest book A Long Petal of the Sea in January 2020.
Writing According to Ms. Allende
Isabel Allende has been called the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author and her writing often incorporates elements of magic realism and pieces of her life.
Her wise advice to writers has been shared in several interviews and some excerpts are explained here.
Be determined to write, start writing but don’t expect your writing idea to come right away.
Isabel Allende replied in an interview about what’s the most important thing she learned about writing, “Show up. Show up in front of the computer or the typewriter. And if I show up long enough – it happens”. She continued, “Showing up and being patient. I can hit my head against the wall because it’s not happening. But just keep going. Keep going. And it happens.”
It may seem frustrating and that nothing is happening, but keep plugging away and soon it will come naturally.
Ms. Allende explains, “But what I have learned in time, in 32 years of writing, is that it’s a lot of work and if I just show up, and I work and work, there is a moment, a magical moment, at some point, when it gives. And then you don’t need the effort anymore.”
Write a story like a conversation
You are telling a story to your reader, it’s okay to write as if you’re talking to them in a conversation. Speak directly to them in a language they understand and prefer.
Isabel Allende sums it up saying, “When you tell a story in the kitchen to a friend, it’s full of mistakes and repetitions. It’s good to avoid that in literature, but still, a story should feel like a conversation. It’s not a lecture.”
Use your own life story
Don’t ever think you don’t have a story idea, your own life story is writing material for so many storylines. Use your personal experience and impose that onto your characters.
Isabel reveals “Over the years I’ve discovered that all the stories I’ve told, all the stories I will ever tell, are connected to me in some way.”
Choose your words carefully
Choosing the right word to emote exactly what you want in your reader is an important part of writing.
She writes, “It’s so important for me, finding the precise word that will create a feeling or describe a situation. I’m very picky about that because it’s the only material we have: words. But they are free. No matter how many syllables they have: free! You can use as many as you want, forever.”
Don’t Let Anything Deter You From Your Writing Plan
Ms. Allende survived a political coup, several divorces, moving to several different countries, and the loss of her daughter, yet continued to write.
Start by establishing a consistent writing schedule, even writing every day, like Allende says “just show up”.
Then keep writing, in the beginning, you can’t afford to be picky about what writing projects to take – start small and as many as you can. After gaining experience and improving and mastering your writing style you can now venture on to larger and higher-priced projects. But always keep writing.
Lastly, keep learning and improving on your writing. A simple method would be to go back to your first writings and edit them. You may even cringe at some of your grammar and word choices from back then. Edit, rewrite, join writing groups, take classes, but keep learning as you write.