Steinbeck on Writing (in Fred Allen's Foreword to Much Ado About Me)
Radio entertainer Fred Allen had his autobiography, Much Ado About Me, published in 1956 (Little, Brown and Comapny). In his brief forward he inserts some of the advice on writing that John Steinbeck wrote for him. It is difficult to contextualize this advice, however. For instance, when Allen discussed writing a book, did he tell Steinbeck he was thinking of autobiography? If so, then is Steinbeck's advice geared toward autobiographical as opposed to fiction writing? In any case, Steinbeck's emphases on the accumulation of detail and on allowing the form to arise from the material (rather than having the form determine the material) still indicate something of his own approach to his craft.
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 clearly so 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.