How to Make Like Isabel Allende, Who Resolves to Write a New Book Every Year

Isabel Allende in 2019. © Lori Barra

The first few weeks of the year most people abandon their New Year’s resolutions, but Isabel Allende starts writing a new book every year. If you’ve already written off your gym membership by February, you may wonder how the Chilean writer pulls it off. She’s human like everyone else, so don’t brush off her success as a strange superpower granted to her through magical realism. You can do it, too.

The problem with many resolutions is unrealistic aspirations; they include the desire factor but don’t consider the work to make it a reality. If you don’t want your goal to stay a dream, plan your steps and be disciplined while leaving the door open to possibilities. You can follow Isabel Allende’s lead to achieve your goals. Remember: you can start at any time of the year – there is no better moment than today.

Stick to What Works for You

Isabel Allende in 2023. © Lori Barra
Isabel Allende in 2023. © Lori Barra

With a red blouse, her fingers typing on the computer, and a cup of tea over a Spanish dictionary, Isabel Allende began 2024. She could quit the routine at 81, but the author makes every day count and continues a ritual that she has maintained for 40 years as part of her committed identity to her writing and her readers.

“Today is January 8th and as usual I started a new adventure surrounded by the spirits of my beloved Paula and my parents,” wrote Allende on Instagram a few weeks ago.

Allende’s ritual includes an exact date, January 8. On that day, in 1981, her life changed forever. While she was living in Venezuela, her mother told her from Chile that her grandfather was very ill. Unable to visit him due to her status as a refugee during the Pinochet dictatorship, she began to write a letter to her grandfather as a catharsis. Those pages became The House of the Spirits. It was her first, and most celebrated novel, the work that gave her purpose.

Set Your Own Rules

Isabel Allende in 2013. © Lori Barra
Isabel Allende in 2013. © Lori Barra

Every January 8, Allende arrives at her office very early in the morning. Amidst fresh flowers, she meditates, lights some candles for the spirits and muses, and then surrenders to the experience. As a superstition, the author continues to choose the same date to start a new book every year. Her structure may be unimaginable for many artists who wonder how to put a time boundary on the creative process. But Allende makes it possible with discipline, persistence, determination, and probably an innate sense of manifestation – she knows she can and she goes for it.

Be Patient, Trust your Process

Isabel Allende in 2011. © Lori Barra
Isabel Allende in 2011. © Lori Barra

Inspiration doesn’t always hit Allende every January 8. Her writing technique includes working on each novel before beginning the first words. Usually, before January 8, Allende paves the way – she has some ideas, a notebook with thoughts, documentation, but never an outline. If she get an idea another month in the year, she takes notes and saves it for January.

Although she trusts her ritual, her determination is what drives her to face that annual blank page. She patiently continues a daily writing exercise in which she spends between ten to twelve hours in solitude letting her work flow, because she knows that her stories have a life of their own and often take an unsuspected path.

Don’t Be Too Harsh on Yourself

Isabel Allende in 2009. © Lori Barra
Isabel Allende in 2009. © Lori Barra

Isabel Allende has admitted in interviews that sometimes she feels terrified and doesn’t know where she stands on January 7, but she still sits in front of her computer every January 8. She doesn’t necessarily start a new book every year, some take more than a year to finish. However, on that day she considers sacred, she is always writing. Knowing this relieves her of the bitter frustration of not achieving her goals the way she wants to. 

When the success of her career complicated her schedule with travel, interviews, conferences, and correspondence, January 8 proved an effective habit to bring discipline to her career. Without the necessary organization, she would not find the space to delve into the worlds of her characters and bring them to life.

Seize Your Moment

Isabel Allende in 2007. © Lori Barra
Isabel Allende in 2007. © Lori Barra

Long hours in front of the computer will not always be possible. Allende recognizes that at some point her memory and ability to focus will not allow her to continue, but she embraces the moment and doesn’t worry about the future. She knows what it is like to lose everything, start from scratch, and miss her past due to a forced migration. At that stage, she felt the frustration of failure, which faded with time when her first book helped her to feel reborn. Retirement will just be another stage.

For Allende, her routine it’s not just a matter of cabala, it’s also a matter of discipline. Thus, take notes: her experience and that of others who meet their goals every year can guide you to your own path. You don’t need to copy their process, though. Just be yourself and see what works for you every day.

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