The Creative Process: Making time for it
Isabel Allende’s creative process has a date that circularly repeats itself every year: January 8th. That day sets the start of her period of concentration, during which she writes for eleven or twelve hours a day without interruption. She lights some candles and incense and meditates. Only after that does she begins to write. Those close to her know that she will not be available for some time from that day on.
On January 8th, 1981, Isabel lived in Venezuela and learned that her grandfather was dying. Being away from Chile, she began to write him a letter that would become The House of Spirits. At first, Isabel chose this date to start writing because of how lucky she had been with her first book. It was a kind of superstition, as she refers to in an interview conducted by the Harvard Business Review. Later, however, it became a discipline, a space for the silence she needed to create.
Plan or Flow?
When she sits down to write, Isabel is not clear about the plot; she doesn’t usually sit down with an outline already thought out. She may have researched a historical period or may have some certainty about what she will write. For example, when she sat down in her home in Sausalito, San Francisco, to write her latest novel, Violeta, she knew that the book would take place during a century, but she was unclear about the plot. It is as if the story revealed itself as if it had a life of its own.
Isabel Allende confesses that the first few weeks can be difficult until she manages to flow, to find her narrative voice. Over time, however, she has learned to trust that she can write about almost anything if she has enough time for herself and a subject. Once Isabel completes her first draft, she prints it. Then she reads it and gradually discovers her creation.
The narrator is Violeta del Valle, a hundred-year-old woman. It is a story between two pandemics: the so-called “Spanish flu” in 1920 and the one we just went through. The first part of the novel narrates the life of a well-to-do family in a Latin American country that has no name but looks very much like Chile. We see how Violeta, a spoiled child whose family suffers a significant trauma during the crash of 1929, ends up moving to the countryside. She goes through a radical change.
It is a novel about love, in which Violeta has several diverse passions. From the protagonist’s point of view, a first comfortable – yet boring first marriage. A second passionate and toxic engagement. Some lovers will give her attention and comfort without asking for anything. Finally, she will have a third love that will be passionate and intense yet full of peace and tranquility.
The daughter of Isabel Allende’s second husband, Willie Gordon, lost to drugs, inspired the creation of Nieves, one of the main characters of the novel. On the other hand, Camilo, Violeta’s grandson, is inspired by the Jesuit priest Felipe Berríos, a friend of the author. Destruction and death are also present in this novel through World War II, politically motivated violence, drug trafficking, the realities of refugees, and the pain of the life that Nieves, Violeta’s daughter, decides to lead.
In addition, the novel addresses the struggle of women to gain the civil rights denied to them in the past and the issue of domestic violence. Addressing these realities is fundamental to the author.
The Isabel Allende Foundation
Isabel Allende has created the Isabel Allende Foundation, whose mission is: “To invest in the power of women and girls to ensure reproductive rights, economic independence, and protection from violence.” She believes that “in every human being there is a worthy and courageous heart” and that if the world is going to heal, women will play a vital role in it. Women must be able to educate themselves and gain economic independence.
The Isabel Allende Foundation and Penguin Random House are offering, for the second time, a course on creative techniques in Spanish, called “Más allá de la Escritura,” which we thought relevant to share. It is to be taught by Isabel Allende and a group of outstanding writers. Should you want to know more about Isabel Allende’s work, we invite you to read some of her books.
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