jenbien (ljen) wrote in lj_nanowrimo,

Exclusive interview with best-selling writer Isabel Allende

Hello writers!

My name is Jen and I'm one of the moderators of this awesome community. Not only am I incredibly impressed by your dedication and commitment, but I am thrilled to be a part of such a warm and welcoming community.

To encourage and inspire you all during this year's NaNoWriMo challenge (for many of us, the most difficult experience of our lives!), we have lined up short interviews and articles with experienced writers, agents and publishers to provide insight and advice to help keep you motivated until your 50,000th word is written!

I had the fantastic privilege of speaking with Isabel Allende, the best-selling author of House of the Spirits. Her illustrious career so far includes publishing 19 books, which have been translated into 35 languages. She has sold more than 57 million books worldwide. Her most recent novel, El Cuaderno de Maya or Maya's Notebook will be available in English next year.

Allende was happy to share her thoughts on the writing process, overcoming writer's block and why you can't just churn out the 'next great American novel.'

Tell us about your writing process:

I begin writing on the same day every year: January 8. It’s because my life is very complicated. I travel around the world to promote my books; I run a foundation. But on January 8, I lock myself in a little place I have in my backyard and I begin writing from 8:30am to 7pm every night, until my husband calls me in for dinner. Sometimes, I do go back to write some more. But I also try to take a break and keep Sundays free.

Have you ever hit writer’s block? How did you deal with it?

After my daughter died, I wrote a book called, Paula. But for three years afterwards, I had writer’s block. What brought me out of it was writing non-fiction. I picked a subject and began researching it, just like a journalist would. Now I know that if I have writer’s block, I can write memoirs or non-fiction because the story is there and I don’t need inspiration.

What about short-term writer’s block?

What I do is if I’m stuck in a sentence, I just walk around the garden or take the dog on a walk. I break, but briefly and always go back to the work. I just love the work I do.

How prepared are you when it comes to starting a novel?

I don’t have any idea of what I’m going to write. When I start on January 8, I have a vague idea of time and place, but not the idea about the story and characters. But, I have all the time in the world, so I can relax. I can just start over and over or throw something out. I don’t care, because I don’t have a deadline.

Are there any challenges in your process?

The most difficult thing is that you don’t move. To sit from morning to evening is exhausting. The physical work-- just showing up everyday is difficult to do. It’s also a lonely job and there’s no feedback. By the time you have feedback, it’s too late because the book is published.

But what about the rewards?

Getting feedback from readers is rewarding. The real reward comes when it’s going around and people like it or not. I was lucky in that sense, my first book, House of the Spirits, which I wrote 30 years ago, was very successful immediately, and paved the way for the other books. I still have the same publisher and have kept the same readers all over the world.

What is your advice to new authors?

This is very similar to training for sports. Nobody sees the training or cares or how much you suffer or sweat. All that matters is that you show up and win. The results matter. Nobody cares how much you suffered or how difficult it was or the process. The only thing people, especially publishers care about, is the end product. Show up everyday, do the training-- which is the writing. It doesn’t matter if it ends up in the trash. You still need to train, then you will be able to play the game.

So many people think they can write the great American novel. But how can you write it if you don’t read? Or if you don’t train?

I always keep a notebook in my pocket. I take notes everywhere. I am attentive. If I overhear a conversation at a restaurant, I take notes on the napkin. I think, maybe I can use it one day? Most of the time, I don’t. But there is always the what if?

To purchase any of Isabel Allende's books, click here.
Visit her website at:

Tags: interview, isabel allende, nanowrimo
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