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.
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.
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:
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
Ten years ago I was newly married, living in a new city, sans kids, and alone a LOT as the hubs was starting a new business. My community existed of my husband, a betta fish named Albie, and a hyper puppy named Trogdor the Burninator.
I turned to writing.
In the past ten years, my writing has turned from a hobby to a career, led to starting a creatively driven business, and most important of all, opened the floodgate to a tribe of friends that I am eternally grateful for.
Writing does not have to be lonely.
In fact, it’s much better when it’s not.
How to find your writing tribe
[Note: You might call it a community, team, posse, clan. Insert your favorite word for your peeps as you read on!]
First of all, you kinda have to leave your house.
I know, I know. Introverts Unite. Trust me. Totally get it.
While you can find people to connect with online, and that’s exactly how one of my strongest tribes started, eventually, you need to be in the same room with your tribe.
- Join a writing association near you
- Attend a writing workshop or conference
- Try an in-person critique group
- Invite a writer in your community to do writing sprints in your local coffee shop
- Take on a new writing buddy on a trial-only basis
- Join online Facebook groups of other authors with either similar goals or similar genre—and start a local meet up once a month
- Start with a small group that you can connect with (it’s why I keep our Cruising Writers Retreats small!)
Benefits of a writing tribe
I’ve been reminded about how grateful I am for my writing tribe recently.
With the release of my new book, Song of Destiny, they not only cheered for me, but they ran contests and giveaways, invited me to post in and takeover their reader groups, wrote cover blurbs for me, shared my release with their readers and friends...all without me even asking.
They also helped me work through some major issues I’m having with a book I’m drafting. And went with me to visit a grave.
The grave and the book are related.
When you’re facing writer’s block, self-doubt, dead-end plots, self-doubt, cliche storylines, self-doubt, creative burnout, self-doubt, your tribe will be there for you. And you’ll be there for them.
They’ll remind you that you can actually write and that you don’t have to struggle alone.
- They will visit cemeteries with you.
- They will love you through your comma deficiencies.
- They will be up from brainstorming, with very little bribing (coffee, tea, wine, and chocolate are all usually acceptable bribes).
- They will cheer for you when you win.
- They will cry with you when you don’t.
- They will big your biggest cheerleader (and if they’re not, they’re not your tribe).
- They will share writing experience—what worked for them, what didn’t.
- They’ll be real with you.
- They won’t be afraid to tell you that YCDB—you can do better.
- They will lift you up with them.
- They will read your pages and re-read your pages and re-read your pages and re-read your pages.
- They will make this writing journey unbelievably life-affirming, joyful, and fun.
Do you have a tribe like that? If not, don’t worry. They are out there.
Take the next step and kiss your fears goodbye
Finding a writing tribe can be a trial and error process spread over many years. For most of us, it won’t happen overnight. It takes a lot to learn to be vulnerable with people, from our selves to our stories.
Just remember, the first step of any journey is often the scariest. But take it, and it’ll make the rest so much easier. Here's a link to a fun, motivational video:
If you’ve already found your writing support team, congratulations! Would you be willing to share how you found your tribe?
Christina Delay is the hostess of Cruising Writers as well as an award-winning author of Young Adult Fantasy and Adult Suspense. She may also have a new series out under a pen name. When she's not cruising the Caribbean, she's dreaming up new writing retreats to take talented authors on or giving into the demands of imaginary people to tell their stories.
About Cruising Writers
Cruising Writers brings writers together with bestselling authors, an agent, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor writing retreats around the world. Cruise with us to the Bahamas this November with Alexandra Sokoloff of the internationally-renowned Screenwriting Tricks for Fiction Authors, Kerry Anne King—Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author, and Michelle Grajkowski of 3 Seas Literary.
Oh, I know there are those of you who won't agree with me. You'll say plot is more important. I'll make my case with the beginnings of two popular plot-heavy stories.
"When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth, but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course she did. This is the day of the reaping."
I love this opening - it tells you so much. About the character, setting and even a foreshadowing of what's to come. The whole first chapter lays out the world, and so much about Katniss, just by showing how she interacts with it. Brilliant.
"ONCE there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids. They were sent to the house of an old Professor who lived in the heart of the country, ten miles from the nearest railway station and two miles from the nearest post office. He had no wife and he lived in a very large house with a housekeeper called Mrs Macready and three servants. (Their names were Ivy, Margaret and Betty, but they do not come into the story much.) He himself was a very old man with shaggy white hair which grew over most of his face as well as on his head, and they liked him almost at once; but on the first evening when he came out to meet them at the front door he was so odd-looking that Lucy (who was the youngest) was a little afraid of him, and Edmund (who was the next youngest) wanted to laugh and had to keep on pretending he was blowing his nose to hide it."
Only two examples, but you get the idea. So WHY is it so important to start with a character?
Imagine this. You're on your way to to work, and you come upon a car accident in an intersection. Two cars, head on. Glass and debris scattered everywhere. What do you think/feel?
- Hope no one has been hurt
- Has someone called 911?
- There's a bad start to someone's day
- Great, this is going to slow me down
- Where are the cops?
But what do you think/feel if you recognize one of the cars - it's your best friend's! BAM! Whole new level of stress, right?
That's the difference with starting your scene with 'crisis' as opposed to 'conflict'. Conflict is always better (conflict requires character). Think about it: If we don’t empathize with the character, we don’t care what happens to them.
And it only takes a detail or two.
Alarm jangling, she cranked the wheel right to full-stop, but the river still expanded in the windshield. Shit. She was going in. There’d be no help; she was the only one stupid enough to be out in an ice storm. But her swelling eye care of Brad’s fury made that impossible. When you decide you’re finally leaving for good, you don’t check the weather first.
Are you invested in this character getting out alive? Yes. Why? You have empathy for her situation. In one paragraph, you understand her motivation, goal and conflict. It's not hard to do - see how a few details make all the difference?
When I'm writing, I always start from character. I may even have a scene in my mind, but the character comes first - that way, I'm assured constant conflict. Because the plot becomes making them face their worst fears, right? I've written:
An orphan who learned early and well, not to trust her and her sister's lives with anyone. After she has to turn her sister over to mental health professionals, the only opportunity she has is for a career where she has to rely on others for her safety. Days Made of Glass
A former Army medic with PTSD can't work with soldiers in pain anymore. She cares too much. She takes a job with Sports Medicine for the Professional Bull Riders, because she'll never care about spoiled, overpaid sports stars. Except her logic doesn't work. Sweet on You
A damaged young woman, running from a Cartel, takes a job in a small town where she meets a Navajo who's determined to help his tribe and keep his bloodline pure. She can't stay - he can't let her go. Home at Chestnut Creek
I promise, if you start with character first, you'll always have enough conflict to last the entire book.
Do you start with plot or character when you start a story? Why?
The second in Laura's Chestnut Creek Series, Home at Chestnut Creek, released July 2. It's getting fantastic reviews! Just click on the photo to get more info.
Deep point of view is powerful and engaging though many find it difficult to do well. The basic techniques of deep point of view have been simplified in blog posts that will heap loads of overconfidence on newer writers.
The difficult part of learning deep point of view is in knowing when and where to go deep and which tools to use to create the desired effect. In my 5-week course and in my 16-week critique group on learning deep point of view, the phrase I write probably more than any other in my feedback is “go deeper.”
Start With The Why!
What does your character want? What do they want/desire/crave/seek so desperately that they’ll go to the very edge of sanity and safety to achieve? This can’t be a nebulous “I want to be happy” or “I want to be successful.” This has to be personal, specific, and powerful. This has to be measurable in a tangible way and the stakes must be high. Jami Gold likes to say, “Can they hold it in their hand?” Can you hold happy in your hand? Can you hold success? No. Go deeper.
Lisa Cron calls it the “live wire” of the story. James Scott Bell has a book about starting from the middle and working backwards to find the core desire – what I call their WHY. Donald Maass calls it the girding of the story structure. Find a teacher who explains this in a way that makes sense to you and figure it out character by character.
Deep point of view is all about the WHY!
Surprise The Reader
Nothing is worse for a reader than predicting how the story is going to go. Snooozefest! Find several key places that you want to be emotional gut-punches for the character. Usually, these line up with major plot points. Write out 3 – 5 different ways the character could react to that situation.
(There’s no right or wrong answer here, don’t get caught up in that mindset.)
The first couple of responses are easy. Keep going until the character gives you an emotion that surprises you. Explore that. Ask them why they feel that way. Why do they feel justified in feeling that way? How would a better/stronger person feel – and what does that say about the character? How would their father/mother react or feel in this situation – why do they feel like they have to follow/avoid that feeling? How would they have reacted to this situation 6 months ago, a year ago, ten years ago – what’s changed?
You might not use that surprising emotion in that scene, but I’ve always learned something important about the character I didn’t know before that I use elsewhere.
Having said all this, sometimes you employ strategic telling, or a narrower point of view, to give the reader a sense of losing track of time, time passing quickly, out of body/mind experience, seeing life flash in front of their eyes, etc. To know which to use, you have to know what you want to convey to the reader and then use the appropriate tool.
Are You Willing To Go There?
Any emotion your character feels, probably – mostly likely, you’ve also felt. We’ve all been angry, frustrated, betrayed, disappointed, grieved, etc. You know how those emotions feel, learn to amplify that emotion to the situation your character is in. The difficult part of deep pov is reliving those hard emotions with enough intensity to write them authentically. Ask yourself: How did it feel? How does my body react when I let that emotion well up? Am I tense or stiff? Where? Where does the emotion sit – would it be the same for my character? What chain reaction is set off if that emotion is left unaddressed? What does society say about expressing that emotion?
This is where writers check out, in my experience. Most of the time, writers don’t go deep enough into their own emotions. They hold back for fear of being too vulnerable or too dramatic, don’t realize how crucial it is to explore, or can’t be bothered. Your character is not you, but your willingness to explore an emotion you’ve felt adds authenticity that grabs readers by the throat.
Always be safe, particularly if you’re exploring emotions associated with past traumas or hurts. Take a break when you need to. Talk about it with a friend or spouse. Go for a long walk, a run, an intense workout for an emotional reset. Be kind to yourself.
Be Honest To The Journey
I think writers have a duty to portray emotions and emotional journeys authentically. Not only so that it rings true for readers, but to also to let readers step into another’s shoes for a moment. For instance, you don’t need to have PTSD to authentically write a character who does, but don’t skim. Don’t cheapen the emotional journey or experience of that condition.
“Fiction Is The Truth Inside The Lie.” Stephen King
**brings out soapbox**
For instance, touch may play a part in helping someone with PTSD feel safe or keep them grounded, and that’s authentic to capture for readers, however – the problem is in having the dysfunctional aspect of PTSD “cured” by a few good sexual encounters. Capture how touch helps solidify the trust or acceptance your character feels, that they feel safe (safer) with that person, show how that person helps them stay grounded or helps them shake off a nightmare, explore how touch intensifies the emotional connection – but I’ve not read anywhere that sex cures PTSD. To write a story where it does cheapens the experiences of those who actually struggle with this and cheats those who read your work and think it actually works that way. I’m picking on PTSD because awareness of it has risen in recent years as well as the popularity of it among writers, but when proper research isn’t done it comes off as a trite condition and it’s not.
**puts away soapbox – clears throat**
The truth is in the details as much as the devil! Writers sometimes write too much detail (the devil), but many times with deep point of view, strategic use of detail (the truth) is what delivers the emotional gut-punch you’re looking for. The difficult part comes in learning to see whether you’re writing truth or giving the reins to the devil in any given scene.
Once you go deep, there’s no going back. *grin* Is there one of these aspects of writing in deep point of view that’s more difficult for you than another?
Make sure to join my free 5 Day Deep Point Of View Challenge group on Facebook (make sure to answer the questions to get in). The next challenge is in October 2019 – get personal and specific feedback from me, plus lessons on deep point of view – for five days! No strings.
Lisa Hall-Wilson is a national award-winning freelance journalist and author who loves mentoring writers. Fascinated by history, fantasy, romance, and faith, Lisa blends those passions into historical and historical-fantasy novels. Find Lisa’s blog, Beyond Basics for intermediate writers, at www.lisahallwilson.com.
Join Lisa’s deep point of view challenge group. Three to four times a year, participate in free training on writing effectively in deep point of view – https://www.facebook.com/groups/5daydeeppovchallenge/
As I’ve pointed out a few (thousand) times before, your book cover is a marketing tool ... the most vital one you have in your marketing toolbox. It exists for one reason, and no, it’s not to contain printed pages—you could do that with a shopping bag if that’s all you needed. The reason it exists is to sell the book. Period. Full Stop.
It’s the packaging for the product. The peel to the banana. The billboard. The movie poster. It’s a piece of commerce, all wrapped up in one tiny image.
For it to work, and by work I mean generate sales, the book cover must tell the reader exactly what kind of book they’re buying. It should be immediately obvious what genre it is, and it should be so clear that the reader doesn’t even have to think about it.
In fact, if you make the reader wonder about what genre your book is, you have the wrong cover. They won’t be intrigued, they’ll be confused. Confused readers don’t buy, or if they do, they resent the bait and switch and leave bad reviews. Readers know the genre they like to read and they’re actively looking for it. The goal is to not disappoint them.
How do you go about getting it right? It all boils down to a two step process.
Step One: Determine What Shelf This Story Will Occupy
To make sure you have the right cover for your book, first be honest with yourself about the story you’ve written. For example, my upcoming series Raegan Reid, Rifter for Hire is, in my heart, a science fiction/urban fantasy detective mashup set in the future. The problem is there’s no shelf in the bookstore for that kind of story. There’s not even a category on Amazon that encapsulates exactly that. I have to acknowledge that no matter what mashup I think I wrote, in order to sell it I must choose one shelf ... one genre. I must target the right reader.
The best way to find the right genre and therefore the right reader is to go on a field trip to a bricks and mortar book store. ANY store will work. I usually go to Barnes and Noble.
Wander the store not with the idea that you want to buy a book but with a critical eye for exactly how the store is arranged. What labels are on the shelves? Where do they physically put the various categories of books? Are the mysteries up front? Can you find the urban fantasies? (hint: there is no shelf for urban fantasy; they’re most often lumped together with science fiction and just plain old fantasy of all types).
Now zero in on the shelf where your story best fits. Be honest. Did you really write a romance? Or did you write a mystery with romantic elements? Forget subgenres, mashups, and crossovers. We’re looking for the overall broad category.
For my new series, even though it’s a mashup of science fiction and urban fantasy elements, I know at the heart of it that it’s most like urban/contemporary fantasy, rather than hard-core science fiction. Therefore, my book in the physical bookstore would be shelved in the SF/Fantasy section, and for online retailers I’ll target urban fantasy as the category. My cover, therefore, needs to appeal to urban fantasy readers, rather than pure science fiction readers.
Step Two: Make Sure the Cover Art Fits the Genre
Once you nail down the shelf or category, take a much slower stroll along those aisles and pick up books similar to your story. It’s vital that you do this physically, in person, at a real bookstore, and not a library (you want current trends). You want to do your research in a place where people actually spend money.
Don’t do this research online.
If you research on Amazon, the results will be full of fluff and spit, stuffed with Kindle Unlimited attempts to make money without effort. Most of those covers are slapped together with little thought and no expertise, with the hope of tricking people to read even ten pages. Your story is worth more effort, and more thought, than that.
Once you have four or five examples in your hands, make a note of who wrote them, and notice the actual wording of the titles. Notice ... really see ... what those covers look like. Examine the background image with a critical eye. Is it dark? Light? A photograph? Drawn illustration? What mood does it convey? Where did they put the title vs the author’s name? Is there a human on the cover? What pose are they in? The more you look, the more you’ll see. Make notes. Take pictures of the ones that you like, especially the ones that strike you as perfect for the story they are selling (yes, I’ve done this standing in the bookstore).
When it’s time to work on your own cover, whether you do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you, use what you learned as a design guide. You want your story to fit in with the examples you found. If those examples were in the bookstore and in your hands ... they sell. That’s the goal, to be just like them!
And while the story itself can challenge exceptions, the cover should not. Let go of the notion that you need to have a unique, artistic cover. You don’t. The cover should be almost a cliché. It should fit the reader’s expectations for the genre they’re looking for. That’s what makes readers go from browsing to buying. First the cover tells them "here’s a mystery thriller." Then the story inside fulfills that promise.
It’s a two-step dance that, if you master it, will lead to book sales and a career.
Do you have a question about cover design? The best colors to use for a cover? What book cover have you seen recently that made you want to buy?
Melinda VanLone writes urban fantasy, freelances as a graphic designer, and dabbles in photography. She currently lives in Florida with her husband and furbabies. When she's not playing with her imaginary friends, you can find Melinda playing World of Warcraft, wandering aimlessly through the streets taking photos, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks.