Inside This Memoir Writer’s Neurotic Head

My ego is on a freaking rampage and having a ball! Self-judgement abounds. Sometimes I don’t know if my skin is really thick enough to be a writer. No, I have not received a bad review (yet). No, I have not gotten critical feedback. People are saying nice things.

I just have this fear somewhere in the back of my mind that something is fundamentally wrong with me for being compelled to write about such personal things. Why do I do this? And why don’t many other people do it? Am I wrong for doing it? Do I have some sort of mental instability? Some sick need for attention? Am I bad? Shameful? Lacking healthy boundaries? A narcissist? Cruel?

My ego does a fist pump and cheers!

Why do I have to go back and explore things? Why can’t I let things stay buried? And why do I have to make it public? What if other people in my story are perfectly fine not to ever think about these matters again? Why do I, in my grandmother’s words, have to “open a can of worms?” Bad, bad, girl, talking about things that would be better left alone. I was the one in my family looking around saying, “Yo! This is messed up! Why can’t you see it?” Why does this seem to be my role in life? What’s wrong with me?

Sly, sly ego. If it can’t get me on that one, it searches for a different angle. Self-pub. What a joke. Thoroughly researched, and a viable way to get books out these days, especially with a traditional publishing industry that is limping along, but I can easily fall into that hole.

Or this….POD (print on demand) means I can make changes. My friend with an eagle eye found some things, like, I’m constantly capitalizing the word “Dad” in the book, when not referring to a dad by name. Interesting mistake, because I am not constantly capitalizing “mom.” She found some other small things, that if I change will make the book look more professional, and tighter, and nothing big, and easy to fix, but boy my ego is having a field day ripping me apart! How embarrassing for it not to be 100% perfect! How awful for the people who have purchased it already to have a book with mistakes! Shameful. I want to crawl into a hole.

Looking at the suggested changes last night I was practically pulling out my hair, not crying, but teary and very overwhelmed. The kids came in the room, took one look at me and Riley said, “Does somebody need a hug?”

Somebody did.

I told the kids what was happening, and Riley reminded me we found typos in Little Women when we read it, and Seth insisted we also found one in Harry Potter. He even remembered the word.

Every single day as I was writing Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar, I did a meditation before writing, offering up the day’s efforts to serve the highest good for all involved. That was my intention. Being perfect was not my intention. Hurting people was never my intention.

I don’t fully understand why truth-telling is in my DNA, but today when I’m feeling small and scared, I’m going remember that “highest good” intention, and trust it. I don’t have to understand everything that is in motion right now.

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14 Responses to Inside This Memoir Writer’s Neurotic Head

  1. kario says:

    Oh, Michelle. I’m sending you a hug right now. You are so human and so entitled to BE human. I can’t be entirely certain, but my sense is that your intentions were to help, share your truth, and inspire conversation so that others can feel free to share their truth as well. Those are all noble aspirations and incredibly courageous. Please tell your ego to go take a flying leap.

    Love you.

  2. jancsnow says:

    Goodllordamighty girl, such a flying leap you took, and you did it so well and with such incredible grace. Please, bask in the light you give to all of us around you every day. And know that the content, the heart and soul of your book, is PERFECT, filled with hope, laughs and great humanity. PERFECT – you hear me??

  3. Kathi says:

    Gosh, I have nothing but respect for you M. And Seth and Riley are right. Typos abound in all books for goodness sake. I mean I can be reading freakin Pat Conroy and find stuff but they are INSIGNIFICANT to the content! No need to be out on the ledge, walking the plank or lashing yourself. Although I do understand those feelings (easy to from an alcoholic family). I have not commented to you yet about the book because I have not been able to complete the whole thing with so much STUFF happening each day – it’s a wonder I get one page read. But I was going to say, I am enjoying it and I wanted to get the totality of your experience before I commented to you.

    BUT, besides that, even if I had not read it…….I think that all writers do this to some extent!

    I have a wonderful suggestion for you. Go get Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird about the writing life. That woman is hysterical. She is a fantastic writer and she also has a very sensitive side – I am sure you know her – she talks about her lack of self-esteem all of the time! If anybody can cheer you up, Anne can!

    Love you. No worries. Back off the ledge!

  4. Heather says:

    Ego, be damned! Michelle, typos don’t take away from the brilliance of the words. Most of us non-literary world folks didn’t even notice. We were just relating to the stories, empathizing for the children in them, wondering if we knew anyone like them or know any like them now. We’re hoping that if we do we will have a better understanding and in turn be non judgmental and accepting and loving and nurturing and supportive. We’re busy loving you for being so open and honest and vulnerable and so beautifully, perfectly fantastically you.

  5. Courtney says:

    There are THREE typos in POSITIVELY … and ridiculous capitalization inconsistencies in the Author’s Note. Not something I like to remind people of, but thought I’d pass it along to you…

  6. Meg says:

    I would love you even if you were perfect, but I am really glad you aren’t. Your courage to put your story out there is what gave me the audacity to think I could do the same. Sometimes I think the only way I can make sense of my life is by putting it into words that I can read and edit. Don’t listen to that little meanie inside your head – listen to your fan club instead!

  7. Dee Ready says:

    Dear Michelle, This past year, I have line edited three nonfiction manuscripts. Now I am copyediting two. I’ve been doing both kinds of editing for the past thirty-eight years.

    I tell you this not to drum up work–I have plenty–but only to say that I’ve never, ever, seen a single publication (fiction, non-fiction, magazine, novel) that didn’t have at least one–and often many more–errors with regard to capitalization, punctuation, spelling, word choice, the handling of numbers, and consistency of use. A good copyediting can “fix” all these errors by following “The Chicago Manual of Style.” But copyediting simply deals with the mechanics of a manuscript. The MECHANICS.

    What is important in any book is what it says. The point it makes. The mystery it presents. The import. The theme. The story. People read not for the mechanics but for the message itself. It’s not a period or a capital letter that will change our life. The text of a good book can, however, do that.

    Given that, please accept from this reader of your book the accolade of being fiercely honest in your memoir and helpful to this reader whose father was also an alcoholic.

    And why a memoir? Because your life and how you handled the pain of it and how you ultimately triumphed can help so many others who are caught up in the tragedy of alcoholism. You give the Universe and all who dwell within it a gift with your memoir.

    Please be gracious to yourself and accept the response of all your readers to the worth of your story and its impact on us.

    You know that when rug-makers in the Middle East make a rug, they always let there be at least one flaw. “Only Holy Oneness is perfect,” they say with this flaw.

    Your book has a flaw or two. You have a flaw or two. I have a flaw or three. Who doesn’t? What doesn’t? The important thing is the message.


  8. Michelle O'Neil says:

    Thank you for the kind, supportive, loving, comments. I appreciate it, and I’m feeling less neurotic already.


  9. Tanya Savko says:

    Yep, I found three errors in mine. Even after all the edits, all the once-overs. And I love what Dee said. She is spot-on!

  10. Kim G. says:

    You are loved and appreciated. You are real and transparent. You are giving and filled with a desire that truth will bring healing. Sometimes there may be pain and discomfort that comes before the healing – maybe some of this is part of your own journey of working through your own personal “stuff.” Life always has some moments of second guesses (says the gal who just quit her job in the midst of a recession and with a kid going to college next year – talk about second guessing!). You’re allowed the moments of doubt and insecurity just like the rest of us. Just make sure you don’t pitch your tent there for an extended stay – you are far to gifted and destined for bigger things than that. Take all the comments from your friends and fans above and read them until you really believe them. And then read them again and know they are true. Love to you.

  11. amber says:

    Right on Dee!! Yes. Yes yes.

    Darling woman, I have asked myself this before. (ok, a lot). And when I read Sacred Contracts, and got into CM’s work on archetypes, I really “got” this part of me. This is who I am, for a reason. Sometimes imperfect, sometimes out of balance. But it is me, and an important, God given part of me because it fits my work here in the Earth School.

    This is JUST who you are, because your soul is wise and knew what you would be good at. It knew how to make a difference here. “Truth Telling” is a sacred thing, Michelle. Sacred. And NOT everyone can do it, and not everyone can deal with it. And where the fuck would the world be without those of us who can?! I ask you.

    In your book you tell the truth. I don’t think you do it for yourself, or your ego. I think you do it to understand it. But deeper, I think you do it so that other people can do it, too. So that other people can understand their own lives, and learn that we can sit in the dark and still wait for light. That it CAN COME. Truth telling is in your contract, girlfriend. Too late to change that now– maybe next trip, but I hope not. I hope you choose to be a truth teller for many lifetimes, because the world will always be full of bullshit.

    Love love love.

  12. Leah says:

    You are not crazy at all! For many of us like me (and I’m guessing you too), writing is like therapy. It’s one of the ways we make sense of the world and our experiences in it. I certainly understand why you wanted to write this book. That being said, I’m going through similar thoughts right now. I want to write about an aspect of my life that would likely upset feelings of some of my family members. However, I don’t feel like I’m writing my story to upset them. I’m doing it because the writing helps me deal with it. It’s what we do as writers and humans.

  13. naomi says:

    Big hugs beautiful friend. It’s complicated to know what is OK to say when our stories are so intertwined with others and when telling ours means exposing theirs. I don’t think that there is a simple answer, but if it helps at all, reading your book didn’t make me judge your family. It made me want to sit down and cry with them, because we all have regrets that are too painful to look at alone. One day our worst and our best choices will be a part of someone else’s stories and we can only hope that they tell them with honesty and kindness -as did you.

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