We All Have a Story to Tell
I Can Help You Tell Yours


If you’re thinking about writing a memoir, but wondering how to start, or when to start, or whether to start—here’s a couple of tips.

Tip One: Note the difference between an autobiography and a memoir. An autobiography strives to capture the entire life story, front to back. A memoir focuses instead on key turning points, memorable moments, transformative events, and peak experiences. This episodic structure provides some immediate payoffs. It greatly eases the writing task. It clears away the need for a strict linear line and smooth transitionsand it allows for stories that don't easily fit together. 

Famed American novelist John Steinbeck, writing to a friend, offered this advice:

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, [things] 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.

Tip Two: Superb writers require good editors. Merely good writers require superb editors—but all writing requires some editing. Don’t go it alone. I can provide a range of manuscript editing services, while also serving (if desired) as associate writer—and overall booster, helping you maintain momentum and keeping you on track. 

I’m always up for some “book chat.” An initial consultation will get us started. We can assess your research, writing, and editing needs—and go from there. We may find creative ways to combine your personal, career, and family histories. For a free 50-page memoir guide, please write or call. I'll respond promptly.

Orlo J. Otteson


408 Spring Street North     202      Northfield MN  55057