August 21st, 2019

The Writing Hierarchy of Needs

Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a theory about what each human needs. The hierarchy, shown below as a five-tier pyramid, attempts to explain the connection between our basic human needs and our motivation.

Photo credit: Writer's Digest

But we are writers. Our needs might differ a bit from the average human. We are mighty beings formed of stubbornness, creativity and caffeine.

The world will always be crazy. With 7.7 billion people on this planet, there is simply no way to avoid misunderstandings and differences of opinion. However, I believe we are all more alike than we are unalike, especially as writers.

We want to make enough of a living that we can carve out time to write. We want our families to be healthy and happy. We want our kids to have more happiness and opportunities than we had.

We want to write wonderful stories.

What is the Writing Hierarchy of Needs?

I’ll encourage you all to add to these in the comments, but here is my take.

Physiological Needs

Water is awesome and important, but did you see that part above about “the mighty beings formed of caffeine?” Most writers consume prodigious amounts of coffee or tea. At the very least we need something fizzy every once in a while.

The best food for writers should have two qualities:

  • Portable
  • Able to be eaten at room temperature

We don’t want to have to get up in the middle of a scene just because we’re hungry. It could anything (fruit, chocolate and protein bars come to mind) but it must be food we can ignore for hours on end while our brains are busy creating…and then fall on ravenously when we’re done.

Many writers swear by naps. Having a handy couch or bed near our writing space is helpful.

The writing dress code usually contains one of the following: pajamas, shorts, yoga pants, possible addition of socks and/or hoodies for warmth.

Note: If you wear something different, I want to hear about it in the comments!

Safety Needs

I don’t know how you see safety and security, but I see it as a safe writing space and a reliable backup system. You’ll know what makes the best writing space for you, but let’s talk about backup systems.

Oh sure, we knooooow we’re supposed to back up our stuff. We plan to back up our files. We think about backing up our files.

Most of the people I know don’t back up their files, unless it happens automatically with something like Carbonite or Dropbox or Office 365.

Or if they do, they don’t do it regularly. They only do it when there’s “a glitch.” Trust me, I’ve been there myself. And I had to pay the $800+ for data recovery. It hurts…bad.

Because we knoooooow we were supposed to back up…

Note: A few years ago, I did an entire post about backing up called Help Me Computer, For I Have Sinned.

A blankie or talisman is another way to add to the "safety" factor. My favorite writing talismans are a pack of matches, a vanilla candle and a digital kitchen timer. I set the timer before I sit down (digital so the ticking doesn’t distract me). When I smell the sulphur from the match and then the vanilla of the candle, something just unlocks for me and away I go into Word Land.

Belongingness and Love Needs

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I need writing friends.

Online friends are awesome, especially for those who are in less populated locations, but there is something about meeting writing friends in person. Holding their hands, seeing their faces, watching them laugh, acting out the logistics of a scene. There is something so creative about in-person time.

If you are lucky enough to have family and every day friends who will support your writing, that’s an amazing gift. But if you don’t, go get some writing friends.

Your writing pals can be found just about anywhere if you run an online search for writing chapters and organizations in your neck of the woods. And remember, if your neck of the woods is hard to get to – there are huge writing communities online.

Esteem Needs

Even if you aren’t published yet, there are ways to meet those Writing Esteem needs. Take classes. Enter contests. Join a critique group.

Anything that gets you feedback on your writing, or new skills to try out, will meet these needs.

Laura Drake and I talk about this all the time: most professional writers would love to go back to that time when they wrote only for the joy of it. No contracts, no deadlines, no reviews, no pressure. They wouldn’t trade their stories or their careers for anything but when writing is a job, it is easy to get burned out.

Enjoy those writing retreats and times of pure creativity.

Appreciate the beauty of this writing life you have chosen for yourself.

In what other job can we go days on end with no shoes or pants if we don’t want to put them on?

A note on competition:

It is really really hard to keep from being sucked down the Comparison Rabbit Hole. There will always be someone who went further, faster, more SOMETHING than you.

Falling down this Comparison Rabbit Hole is a surefire way to shred your self-esteem. Do what you must to resist. Keep a gratitude journal or a goal list that allows you to see your progress. When you are looking at someone else’s accomplishments all the time, it becomes impossible to see how far you have come yourself.

Self-Actualization

If you’re like me, you’d like to jump over all the rest of the Writing Hierarchy and live here. You just want to create already, right? But every journey starts with a single step.

If you haven’t slept, you can’t create.

If you are hungry or cold, you can’t create.

If you are worried about your loved ones, you can’t create.

But you can forgive yourself and resolve to create at your next opportunity. You can practice the self-care you need to climb back up that pyramid to the exalted Self-Actualization stage. You can scribble notes, to be ready when you get there. You can breathe.

We know you are better, stronger, wittier and prettier when you are writing. We are too. And we are here to encourage you to do what you must to achieve your fully self-actualized potential.

Here is an infographic of the Writing Hierarchy of Needs if you need to post it somewhere prominent as a reminder.

Now go write!!

What would you add to the Writing Hierarchy of Needs? Where are you right now in the Pyramid? Which stage do you find the most challenging?

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 20+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or here at Writers In The Storm.

30 responses to “The Writing Hierarchy of Needs”

  1. Claire Gem says:

    You hit them all, Jenny! The only thing I might add is a glass of wine to celebrate reaching a goal, whether that be a word count for the day or writing "The End." Glad you mentioned Carbonite--I finished a manuscript once, closed and saved it, and when I went back to begin edits the Word Doc opened up blank: all 103 pages of it. Carbonite saved my sanity that day! Thanks for an entertaining and enlightening post!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I'm 100% with you on celebrating with a glass of wine! My guy takes me out on dates to celebrate too, which helps too.

      And God bless automation when it comes to backups! It makes life SO much easier.

  2. Evelyn Morgan says:

    I read your words and nodded my head. They are so true. My dogs who are my closest companions when I am at my house and not "visiting" my children who take me into their homes for weeks at a time and call it mom's assisted living. So right now I am at my house and my dogs are sick. While at the vets yesterday, I left the waiting room to buy a notebook so I could write while I knew someone else was taking care of them. I managed two pages in a white heat of creativity. They are better now. I think I can put those pages in my computer today.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Good for you, Evelyn! I'm so happy you went to get that notebook. You took the steps to be creative while you took care of others and that is HUGE.

      I hope those pups are back to their normal levels of awesome. I adore dogs.

  3. Fae Rowen says:

    Yep. Backing up is the biggest for me. Years ago, I knew my hard drive was sounding funny...

  4. Maggie Smith says:

    A bit off topic but I also find thinking about Maslow's Needs Pyramid is helpful when developing characters. Your woman protagonist is not going to be concentrating on self-actualization if someone in her family isn't safe or she just lost her home, for example

  5. Julie Glover says:

    Great post! Love all the connections you made. At this point, for me security is mostly about financial security. Yep, money, money, money is what I need to keep writing without worry interrupting the flow. I hate that it comes down to that—as you say, I'd so much rather live at that Self-Actualization acme—but the family's got to eat, have healthcare, and keep the cars running. This gig needs to turn out some more income and thus security!

    Oh, but thanks for reminding me to back up. I stink at doing that!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Yes! Go back up your writing....RIGHT NOW. And I hear what you are saying with the need to be paid for your writing. That is the entire reason I moved into content writing for websites (besides that I'm good at it) - I like knowing I am making money at something writing. And it lets me write off all the fun learning I like to do for the other side of my writing.

  6. Justine says:

    I love this. Just a brief note on the Scrivener backups (I saw this in a forum)...the backups work when you CLOSE Scrivener (yes, it does incremental saves, but not the same thing), so be sure to close out of it every day.

    I agree with Claire on the glass of wine (or sparkling juice). Making a big deal of those victories, no matter how big or small, is good for the soul.

    The only other thing I'd add to the list of physiological needs is lots of water. Yes, caffeine gets us through, but without water to go with it, I'd be too jittery to type or I'd pass out when I got up from my office chair!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Oh! Justine;;;thanks for letting me know about that quirk for Scrivener backups. I didnt realize that.

      And yes, I must drink water if I work out. But really, I love hot beverages.When I am at my coffee limit for the day (usually 2-4 cups), I just switch to hot decaf tea. I have not been able to make myself actually LIKE water all these years. I must add lime or MIO drops or cherry juice. Really anything except plain water - that's how I choke it down.

  7. Eldred Bird says:

    I hear ya on all of these points, Jenny.

    I think the one need I have over any other is time. Just good old quiet, uninterrupted writing time. It seems like that's the one thing in my writing life that's in short supply!

  8. Jenny...WELL DONE! Love this post. Truly. Love. It.

    For me, I don't need a safe place to write. I can do it anywhere, anytime. I wrote my first novel during my lunch breaks at the office, by a fountain in the sunshine. I've written chapters while sitting on a bench at Disneyland.

    And, most recently, I brainstormed and outlined a most unexpected and unplanned historical-romance novel on one of Japan's famed bullet trains a few weeks ago, beginning the minute we pulled out of Hiroshima.

    While I don't need a safe or special place to write (though my home office is pretty dandy), I do need to have snacks (both sugary and not) handy. I can get lost for hours at the keyboard. When the diabetic sweats and shakes kick in, I've gone too long. Snacks to the rescue!!!

    Again, great post, Jenny!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Chris! And yowza, having to worry about blood sugar during the writing time...that sure is an extra wrinkle to manage. Go, you.

      I tend to like to write out in the world. But the timer/candle thing? That's what I use when I am stuck. For some reason, that smell of the match, followed by the candle, opens me right up. 🙂

  9. dholcomb1 says:

    #5 is my most challenging.

    denise

  10. Karen says:

    Great post! Read it twice today.

  11. What clever, unique characters we all are—us writers. Great post reminding me how I fit in to the grand scheme of things—even on days when the negatives of rejection pop up.

  12. "If you haven’t slept, you can’t create.

    "If you are hungry or cold, you can’t create.

    "If you are worried about your loved ones, you can’t create."

    This. So much this. I've learned the truth of these words so thoroughly the past few years, I don't think I'll ever buy that lone wolf, starving artist garbage again.

    Thank you for this post and the infographic. Will be sending this to my friends.

  13. Cynthia Stafford says:

    Love this post! It reminds me that others walked the path I'm on and that keeps me going. I'm thankful I found your blog and shared your The Power of the Writing Tribe with my critique group. They loved it, too.

  14. candacecolt says:

    Love this! Once in another life I was a college teacher and taught Maslow to my students. I never once considered for my new life as a writer. Brilliant!

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