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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Maslow vs The Deadline

In 1954 Abraham Maslow introduced his theory of the Hierarchy of Needs. More than anything, people needed their basic physical needs met (food, water, shelter, and sleep). After that came security needs (financial stability, safe shelter, health). Then came Love and belonging (emotional needs and relationships), then esteem (confidence, self-esteem, praise), and only after all those other needs were met could a person move to a place of creative, morale, non-prejudiced living.
An illustration of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs provided by Simply Psychology.

The Hierarchy of Needs is often drawn as a pyramid, suggesting that without the solid base of food, water, shelter, and the next level of health and security an individual can't progress. Without food and water there can be no concern for emotional health and well-being. Leave someone to get hungry and see how fast they get cranky and impolite. That's Maslow's Theory in action.

On a deadline for any creative project Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs becomes something of a sticking point, because creativity only exists in a place or mind where all other needs are met.

There are lots of authors who talk about how much writing they can get done, or how to write 5000 or 10000 words in a day. There are always people who will tell you about how to get the maximum output from your writing time. And they all assume the basic needs described by Maslow are met.

This is a bad assumption.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for any author is actually the Hierarchy of Needs. It's the main cause of writer's block.

Sit down with an author who hasn't written in two months and they'll tell you how hard the words are, that they just can't get things right, that they have no ideas... Then ask them about the rest of your life and nine times out of ten you'll hear about a job loss or financial setback, health problems, family problems, work problems, or some other hiccup that has unbalanced their pyramid.

More than one author has quit writing in despair because they thought they had failed at being a writer simply because there was some underlying need that isn't being fulfilled. So, instead of giving up in despair, when you hit a day where the words aren't working ask yourself: Are my needs being met?

Are you hungry or thirsty? Have you had enough sleep? Are you healthy? Is your situation stable? Are you in emotional turmoil or in need of some emotional support? Are your basic needs being met?

They may not be. And, I'll be perfectly honest, financial stability and perfect health aren't always going to be options. There will be days when your self-esteem is bruised, health problems are acting up, and the roof springs a leak. The secret to hitting your deadlines in the chaos is to recognize your needs, and meet as many of them as you can.

If you can't guarantee financial stability, that's fine. Acknowledge that the matter is out of your hands until the situation changes/company finishes lay-offs/hiring process is over/parents send you allowance. Then, get back to writing.

If your health isn't 100%, do what you can, accept the limitations where you need to, and write as you are able.

If you're emotionally distressed, do what it takes to make you happy again. Cry if you need to. Call a friend for a good laugh. Vent in an email. Spend six hours on Tumblr looking at kitten pictures. And then wipe away the tears, turn off the kitten Vine, and get back to writing.

Remember: it is okay to have bad days. It is human to fall short of your goals. It is natural to adapt your goals and deadlines to the challenges of reality.

None of us has a perfect life. Everyone will face challenges, bad days, and frustrations. What matters is getting back up again after life smacks you down. Don't sit there in the mud being miserable. Get up, change course, adapt to the challenge, and get moving again. It's the only way to survive.

And keep writing. The world needs your book.

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