Isabel Angélica Allende Llona, born in Lima, Peru, of Chilean heritage, has given us the gift of her magic realism novels that appear in both Spanish and English. She has lived in California since 1988 and has dual Chilean-American citizenship. She has been awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Chilean Prize for Literature, as well as over thirty other awards for her contributions. She is currently the most widely read author of Spanish-language literature.
The following set of writing tips is taken primarily from Fred Johnson’s “7 Ways Isabel Allende Can Help You Improve Your Writing,” https://www.standoutbooks.com/isabel-allende-writing-advice. Johnson notes that he’s taken these seven ways from Allende’s eager sharing of her “methods, rituals, and tips.”
- Stay vigilant. We can’t always anticipate, especially when writing fiction, what we should write about. The story must be compelling. What many less experienced authors may fail to do is to pay attention to what is going on around you, carefully notice offhand remarks, stay aware of your surroundings when traveling through a place or seeing it off in the distance. Any of these small observations may spark an idea that becomes an inspiration for a story.
- Don’t be afraid to begin. While brainstorming, planning, and gathering information are important, those activities can come to take on a life of their own. Long before over-thinking the entire work you want to write, you need to start writing. Allende thinks of this planning paralysis as self-sabotage. As so many authors come to understand, we cannot always know at the start what our characters will do; their thoughts and behaviors can be a surprise to the writer who is the medium through which those characters come to life.
- Write every day. Writing, according to Allende, is often a difficult process, with much of that due to the reality that writing is laborious. Waiting for inspiration means not doing the work of writing. By analogy, she notes that athletes must train every day if they are to be prepared to succeed. The comparison with writing is clear.
- Allow yourself to fail. Avoid the romanticized stereotype of writers that they are struck by the lightning of inspiration and proceed to write brilliantly. Even world-famous authors such as Allende have experienced rejection. Johnson quotes her: “For every good page, you will have written twenty pages that end up in the trash. It doesn’t matter.” The writer’s responsibility is to scrutinize their writing and to excise those twenty pages, recognizing the “diamond” amidst the “coal.”
- Find the right word. Languages and cultures differ in their preferences for expression. Spanish, a romance language, says Allende, “allows for a more flowery way” of writing than works written in English. When writing in English, recognize the responsibility to be more concise and precise—a guideline that took hold when Hemingway showed the way. Choose individual words with impact, words that need no adornment because the denotation and connotation hit the nail on the head. Question the need for adjectives if the right noun can convey all that’s needed.
- Keep showing up. Yes, get started and write every day. However, a writer may have difficulty continuing with this routine when the work continues for months (or years). The muse can’t show up if you’re not writing. In fact, that muse probably won’t show up until you’re deeply into the project. When all is going well, Allende tells us, there will be “a moment, a magical moment, at some point, when…you don’t need the effort [anymore]” because, like dancing, you reach a point when your conscious effort becomes a natural act.
- Know when to call it a day. Avoid overcorrecting. There comes a point when writers can get in their own way, wordsmithing until the words no longer flow. Writing with an online document editor makes it extremely easy to overcorrect. Instead, consider putting your manuscript aside—even for a long as a few months. You will return to it with a fresh eye. You may not even notice the little places that you previously thought needed improvement…and you’ll be glad you stopped when you did.