Isabel Allende’s debut novel, The House of the Spirits, started as a letter written to her dying grandfather and was published when she was 40. Some 30 years later, she has sold more than 56 million books, which have been translated into 30 languages.
Isabel gave a pithy but powerful interview to Gabriel Packard featured in The Writer magazine (August, 2014). Since it’s filled with inspiration for us all, I’m sharing the entire interview here:
Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?
A: Show up. Show up in front of the computer or the typewriter. And if I show up long enough — it happens.
Q: How has that helped you as a writer?
A: When I started writing, I always had the feeling that the book was like a gift — that it would fall into my lap like an apple or something. So I almost had the feeling that it wasn’t going to happen again. That I had written The House of the Spirits, and that was it. Or I had written the second or third book, and that was it. But what I learned in time, in 32 years of writing, is that it’s a lot of work, and 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. It’s like dancing. When you’re dancing and counting the steps, you’re not dancing. When your body just goes — then you’re dancing, and then there’s a rhythm, there’s a velocity, there’s a feeling, there’s a joy that you cannot describe. And it happens in spite of me. I think that’s the moment in writing when the book starts to happen. From that point on, it’s all joy. At the beginning, it’s work.
Q: You can’t get to that moment without just showing up?
A: 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.
Show Up and Keep Going: Now that’s how to write dangerously. Write on!