This is the foreword to Much Ado About Me (1956) by Fred Allen.
Some years ago John Steinbeck offered to help me with a book. I didn’t know how to write a book. John listed some rudimentary suggestions for the beginner. I pass them on to you. John wrote:
Don’t start by trying to make the book chronological. Just take a period. Then try to remember it so clearly that you can see things: what colors and how warm or cold and how you got there. Then try to remember people. And then just tell what happened. It is important to tell what people looked like, how they walked, what they wore, what they ate. Put it all in. Don’t try to organize it. And put in all the details you can remember. You will find that in a very short time things will begin coming back to you, you thought you had forgotten. Do it for very short periods at first but kind of think of it when you aren’t doing it. Don’t think back over what you have done. Don’t think of literary form. Let it get out as it wants to. Over tell it in the matter of detail—cutting comes later. The form will develop in the telling. Don’t make the telling follow a form.
Fortified with John Steinbeck’s advice I am starting my autobiography.
The book was published slightly incomplete: Allen dropped dead on 57th Street in New York when out for a walk one night, with the last bit of the manuscript still to be written.