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Why You’re Not Writing: Making New Worlds Requires Meeting Your Needs

From years of teaching in rural, low-income areas in Central Illinois, and after being a product of one myself, I have seen and experienced the impact that deprivation can have on a child’s ability to learn. The biggest impact is on their motivation, their curiosity, and their perseverance through frustration. A kid who has been deprived of one or more needs struggles to see the point of school. But, even a kid who is fed, clothed, and has a place to sleep can still be majorly deprived of the needs a human being must have met to be successful. According to Dr. Abraham Maslow, a human being has needs that go just beyond the physical.

Credit : Simply Psychology

In fact, he formulated that there was a pyramid of needs, five tiers high, that built upon themselves to create total fulfillment. In the top tier, a person is capable of reaching the full potential of human beings, which Maslow called “Self-Actualization.” In order to produce, create, and find the drive to do so, a person must reach the fifth tier at the top of the needs pyramid, but Maslow stated that this could not happen until the bottom four tiers were met, each building on the foundation of the one below. In other words, until your most basic needs are met, it’s impossible to move to the next tier, and impossible to create.

Credit: WikiCommons

 

Hierarchy of Needs

 

BASIC NEEDS

  1. Physiological Needs- water, food, shelter, warmth

If we are expending all our energy on trying just to survive, we cannot expend energy on creative productivity.

It’s obvious that humans have physical needs (yes, including those physical needs… ya perv…) that are required just for survival. Humans need water, food, clothing, and shelter to survive, which is why makes up the first tier, the foundation of the pyramid of needs. Unfortunately, we live in a world, even in countries considered first world, that fail to provide these basic human rights to everyone. No progress can be made unless these basest of needs are being net, and met regularly, which is why the second tier is just as important as the first.

2. Security Needs- stability, consistency, healthcare, resources, employment

If we are expending all our energy trying to secure our resources, we cannot expend energy on creative productivity.

Human beings must have their basic needs met, and be comfortable that they will continue to be met. Living in constant fear of being hungry, cold, vulnerable, broke, creates toxic amounts of stress on the human body. This is why poverty is the root cause of so many health issues- the constant threat of losing everything in the blink of an eye. Many families in my school district are just skirting disaster, one unforeseen event, bill, accident away from collapse.

When living in this constant anxious state, toxic stress becomes a major obstacle. When unable to get out from under the stress, it leads to health issues from an impaired immune system, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and strain on relationships, personal and professional.

So, perhaps, your basic needs are being met, but just not consistently. Are you worried about your job security or struggling with unemployment? Is your health a constant battle for you, mental or physical? Are you worried about access the health care?

“Living in constant fear of being hungry, cold, vulnerable, broke, creates toxic amounts of stress on the human body.”

PSYCHOLOGICAL NEEDS

3. Socio-Emotional Needs- belonging, intimate relationships, affection, touch, family connections

If we are expending all our energy trying find a sense of belonging and identity, we cannot expend energy on creative productivity.

The biggest revelation I have had in my study of teaching children with trauma has been the impact of relationships on a child’s ability to learn and function socially. From the very first connection a baby makes with their caregivers, the roots of social, emotional, and physical needs are established. If these tiny humans establish healthy, trustworthy relationships with their caregivers, research shows that over the course of their life they will be better students, better regulators of stress and emotions, and better able to develop healthy relationships with others. Evidence has even shown that “problem” students can be helped, not with strict punishments and zero-tolerance policies, but simply by forming a trusting bond with an adult. This is especially true for children who have been deprived fulfilling relationships with their caregivers.

They also build the foundations of strong Executive Functions, or in other words, all those other things our brain does beyond problem solving and bodily functions. Executive functions include memory, organization, prioritizing and planning, task initiation, impulse control, flexibility, emotional control, and self monitoring. These are the areas of the brain that are critical for success in school. And, they’re the same skills needed to formulate a new idea, the creativity to develop it, and the motivation and inspiration to carry it through to the end.  In essence, anyone who has experienced trauma has a higher chance of deficits in their executive functioning.

Credit: Lisa Woodruff

These executive functions are the same parts of the brain heavily impacted by Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, meaning that exposure to trauma can have the same impact on learning and create the same deficits as ADHD and Autism.

It may seem like a far leap to say that your relationships directly impact your abilities to think and learn. After all, relationships are social and learning is cognitive. But, human beings are social animals. Our evolution has been heavily dependent upon our ability to build communities; they create security and safety in ancient and our modern times. We crave interaction and affection, and that in itself creates its own sense of security. Belonging is crucial. And, as discussed in the second tier of the hierarchy, security is important on the path to self-actualization.

This may be the area in your life that may have the least structural foundation, and may be the cause of your writing issues. Writers are a lonely lot. We are esoteric, eccentric, and many enjoy being alone, preferring to watch from the sidelines rather than participate in society. This can lead to feelings of isolation. If you’re struggling with rejection, identity, or building healthy relationships, that fear of loneliness may be impacting the creative processes. Rejection in your personal life can easily translate over into the fear that your creations (the purest expression of you) will be rejected too.

“Evidence has even shown that “problem” students can be helped, not with strict punishments and zero-tolerance policies, but simply by forming a trusting bond with an adult.”

4. Esteem Needs- Self image, confidence, mental health

If we are expending all our energy trying find a sense of belonging and identity, we cannot expend energy on creative productivity.

When the word self-esteem enters a conversation, even I will admit, I find it hard not to roll my eyes and sigh. It’s hard not to immediately conjure images of participation trophies and posters of kittens on “hanging in there” on ropes. But, while self-esteem has become a millennial buzzword in the extreme, it remains an important part of our mental health despite the obnoxious reputation the word has garnered. In this particular case, self-esteem refers to the image we have of ourselves in our own heads and how that impacts how we interact with other people and engage in activities because of it.

A person with healthy confidence will feel comfortable around others and when alone, knowing that a healthy balance can be found in in both. They will also have a healthy respect for themselves, be able to take constructive criticism, and be able to make positive choices for their life. They will know that they have self-worth simply because they are a human being and they deserve to have their needs met.

A person who is struggling with self-esteem, especially conditions resulting from abuse and neglect, will be in constant need to validate their self-worth. This validation can come in the form of many ways- praise, physical contact, attention, and other positive forms of interaction with people. In some cases, when the need for this validation is high but does not occur, the result can be mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self harm, and/or drug addictions that develop out of a need to numb the pain of worthlessness.

The biggest issue that can be a result from lack of having self-esteem needs met, especially when pursuing creative projects, is imposter syndrome. This is the deep seated feeling that you are a talent-less fraud and a paranoia that you are about to be “outed” as a fraud the minute someone sees your work. This alone is the reason some people never share their artwork, their writing, or their creations with other people, even close family and friends. Ironically, the validation for that work is what they crave most, and would actually help.

Since this need is the most cerebral of the human needs, it tends to be the most overlooked area. You can see a person physically starving, but you can’t always see self-esteem issues until they manifest physically, such as the weight loss of an eating disorder. Another sad aspect of this issue is that because they suffer from worth issues, those suffering from low self-esteem are trapped in a vicious cycle of believing that it is okay for them to feel worthless, because in their skewed belief system, they are in fact worthless.

Does this sound like you? Are you terrified to let others see your creative work for fear of rejection or ridicule? Are you fighting a battle with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self harm, or addiction because of trauma and self-worth issues? Until you feel that your work has worth, as an extension of your own worth, you may be too paralyzed to create and share that work.

“Rejection in your personal life can easily translate over into the fear that your creations (the purest expression of you) will be rejected too.”

SELF-FULFILLMENT NEEDS

Self Actualization- reaching full potential through fulfillment of all other needs

The term self-actualization sounds so mystical and profound; to achieve self-actualization is to become the Buddha, to reach enlightenment and higher planes of existence. But, in the sense of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-actualization is much more simple and attainable than breaking the karmic cycle.

When speaking of Maslow’s hierarchy, the term self-actualization simply means generating an original idea, initiating the task to bring it to fruition, and seeing it through to completion. And, according to Maslow, this process of creation cannot happen unless you have met all the needs in the bottom four tiers.

Maslow described Self-Actualization as:

It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. The specific form that these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions.” (Maslow, 1943, p. 382–383).

He also identified 15 common characteristics of “Self-actualizers”:

  1. They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty
  2. Accept themselves and others for what they are
  3. Spontaneous in thought and action
  4. Problem-centered (not self-centered)
  5. Unusual sense of humor
  6. Able to look at life objectively
  7. Highly creative
  8. Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional
  9. Concerned for the welfare of humanity
  10. Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience
  11. Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people
  12. Intense or exciting “Peak” experiences
  13. Need for privacy
  14. Democratic attitudes
  15. Strong moral/ethical standards

How many of these traits do you have? If not, why? What are you missing from life that you need? How can you resolve this need? Who can help?

If you’re not writing, painting, creating, actualizing… stop and ask yourself- Are you unable to do so because one of your needs is not being met?

Are you struggling to survive?

Are you struggling to maintain your survival?

Are you isolated?

Are you mentally healthy?

 

Once we resolve the obstacles to our own unmet needs, we will be able remove the blocks in our creative endeavors.

 

 

 

Information on brain science, development, and learning provided from Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approaching to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom by Heather Forbes https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17695490-help-for-billy

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Imposter Syndrome (APA) http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx

Executive Functioning https://organize365.com/adhd-affects-getting-organized-part-1/

 

Editorials Pep Talks Real Talk Sass

When Writers Don’t Write

A Rant from Sass:

It’s 10:26 am on Christmas Eve. My husband is currently working a sixteen hour overtime shift (at triple time – don’t feel bad for us. He signed up for it.), and I have the house all to myself. I don’t have anywhere to be until tomorrow. It’s cold, and the snow that started last night is still accumulating. I have a cozy little fire going in my wood burning stove and a piping hot cup of sweet, black tea steeping as I type. My cats are curled up at my feet. It’s literally a perfect day to write…

…so, why the hell don’t I want to write?

I’m a writer. You kind of have to do writing for that to work. But, meh… I just… whatever.

It’s not writer’s block. It’s not even writer’s embarrassment. I just look at my project, shrug my shoulders, and think Nope.

I have writer’s apathy.

I’m nine months shy of being a decade into my main writing project. I’ve fleshed out all the characters. I’ve outlined the entire story, the conflict, the character arcs, the twists, the turns, the reveals, and the resolution. I’ve written over 50,000 words of the chronological story, and who knows how much out of order.

The story is there. It’s ready to be completed. I love my characters, I’m happy with my style, I’m proud of the theme and message I want to resonate through the story…

…so, why can’t I finish this damn story?

Have I fallen out of love with the idea?  Am I hitting the limits of my own creativity? Or, is it simply the manifestation of something I just can’t accept – maybe I am not really a writer at all. A creator, sure. I made an entire world. That happened, and it can’t be denied. But, am I trying to create my world in the wrong universe?

Am I sabotaging myself because I subconsciously fear I’ve invested ten years in a project that will have absolutely no significance?

The worst part isn’t the not writing. It’s the fact that everybody that reads what I have written loves it. My husband, my writer friends, my best friends, strangers who’ve read it on the few places I have posted it on the internet – I’ve had tons of positive feedback. They are desperate for more. They are begging me to finish. And, when they tell me this, I want to finish. I have hope I can. I believe I can… for about, like, a day. Then it’s straight back to excuses and apathy.

“If platitudes could be burned as creative energy to motivate my ass to complete this story, it would probably be a whole damn series by now.”

Most of the time, my writing dry spells have coincided with depression. On the reverse of that, my best writing periods have coincided with manic periods. But lately, when I sit down to put words on paper – despite knowing what I need to write, and how I want to write it – just feel lethargic. Creatively devoid. Bored, even.

So, why don’t I just walk away, you ask? Many reasons…

  1. I don’t often walk away from things I start – I’m too competitive, even with myself.
  2. I keep talking myself out it.
  3. The desire to have her own fandom is strong with this one.
  4. I know in my heart that someone out there needs this story as bad as I needed it when I started writing it.

“Your words are going to change someone’s life, even if it’s your own.”

My writer friends encourage me, giving me pep talks all the time.

“It’ll take as long as it takes.”

“I know you’re going to finish this story.”

“It’s a fantastic story that needs to be written. You’re going to do it, I promise.”

If platitudes could be burned as creative energy to motivate my ass to complete this story, it would probably be a whole damn series by now.

I wish I had answers. I wish I could peel back my consciousness and poke around inside it with a stick until I figured out why I am motivationally blocked. But, alas, no dice.

I’m just going to have to keep plugging away, working when I can, and trying not to feel like I’m made of excuses when I can’t. Writing is an art, not a science. It’s an act of creation. The pressure of manifesting something literally from nothing is overwhelming sometimes. It’s intimidating, especially when you add on the fact that you are second guessing your every move as you do it. Every writer wants to create something new, undiscovered, and original, because every writer needs to feel those things about themselves.

Writing is an act of affirmation.

As the often contested quote says, “Writing is easy. You just sit down at a typewriter, and bleed.” In other words, a writer pours everything out onto that page that makes them. They spill their essence across the page in a flow of words – their thoughts, their beliefs, their fears, their desires, their strengths, and their limitations. A writer leaves everything they are on the page, and waits for someone to love it. A writer perceives love through the admiration of their work, because if they can lay out their essence on a page, flaws and all, and still find someone who finds beauty, joy, revelation, and kinship in that mess, then they have truly been accepted for who they are.

That is terrifying and alluring, and the secret desire of every writer. They want someone to read them like their book, and say “I love this exactly as it is. Never change a thing.”

Dear merciful universe, I will finish this book. I don’t know how long it will take, or how I will find the momentum, but I will do it for one simple reason: Finishing this book will say more about me than anything I undertake for the rest of my life. It’s become a metaphor for my entire life struggle.

“Am I sabotaging myself because I subconsciously fear I’ve invested ten years in a project that will have absolutely no significance?”

I am not good enough. I will never be accepted. Nobody gets me. What’s the point in trying?

My story is not good enough. It will never be accepted by the mainstream. Nobody will get it. What’s the point in writing it?

Because it already exists. I exist. I think, therefore, I am, right? Saying this story isn’t worth writing is like saying my life is not worth fighting for anymore. It’s creative suicide. As long as people want it, I know it has worth… and, as long as I know I can write it, I too have worth.

I have to find the courage, conviction, and fortitude to keep writing. I have to tell my story as it is, without hesitation. I have to keep writing, living, bleeding out, otherwise… what is the point?

Writing is scary because it is the most honest thing you can do to accept yourself. Don’t give up. Keep fighting, even when it hurts, even when hope seems lost. It’s worth it. You’re worth it. Your words are going to change someone’s life, even if it’s your own.

Write on young savior,

 

 

Related Content:

If I Tell You That You Suck, Can You Get Over It?

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Craft Editorials For the Ladies Pep Talks Real Talk Sass

Wasted Space

When you say you wanna be a writer… but, you just end up writing wish fulfillment.

A rant from Sass:

Scroll through any random writing forum, especially any topic under “writing help” and you will find the following:

“NEED HELP! I really want to write a story, but I need an idea! Thanks!”

“I have an awesome idea (insert extremely long, detailed physical description of a character and nothing else) but now I’m stuck. How can get over writer’s block?”

“I’m writing a story about a werewolf/fairy/vampire love triangle about a teenage good girl who can’t decide between two bad boys (who she can totally change), but I don’t have a plot yet. I need ideas!”

UGH! I swear to this dear, merciful fucking universe, if I see one more post like this in a forum, I am going to Hulk smash the internet. Not my keyboard. Not my monitor. The entire fucking internet. Oh… I’ll do it. Watch me. I’m that upset.

Why? It’s because people that say this don’t really want to write a story – they want to write personalized escapism. It’s like the mature version of those Barbie books your Grandma used to get you for your birthday, where they put your name in the book with a Barbie that looked like you… remember those, child of the Nineties? (Yes… I know we’re getting old. Don’t change the subject.)

For anyone who has ever posted a topic like the ones above in a forum, I’m calling you out. I’m not trying to shame you. I need you to stand up and be counted so that I can ask you a serious question, and I expect an honest answer:

Why in the hell are you writing a story?

Not, what is your story about. Not, what is your main character like? Honestly. Seriously. Think about it for a second, and tell me why you want to write a story.

If the answer is anything less than: “…because I have this thing inside me, consuming me, and if I don’t get it out somehow I am literally going to die.” … well then, you really have no business writing a story. At least not yet.

“You’re so desperate to escape that you’re blinded to the fact that you are escaping to a prison of your own design.”

It took me a really long time to call myself a writer, to have the confidence to back up the statement when I said it. After all, writers produce stories, finished stories to be exact, which is something I have yet to do with original content. (Yeah… I write fan fiction. So what! Wanna fight about it?) So, without having produced a finished original work, how could I have the audacity to call myself a writer?

Easy. I’m a writer simply because I write, and I have been actively doing so since 2009. Actually, I started much earlier than that, having written since my childhood, filling notebooks with silly knock-offs of my favorite stories where a placeholder character of myself was living out a fantasy like one of the ones I wanted to experience.

There is no crime in that. That’s why fan fiction exists in the first place. And, if that is truly what you want, then that is what you need to write. Start with worlds and characters that have already been fleshed out, and play with them until you sate that desire to escape. Then, go back to the real world until it destroys everything good inside you, and return to your fan fiction until you have the will to live again. I get it. Escapism is a powerful thing, especially when you are a young girl. That, I get even more. I’ve been there, done that, and all I got was this crappy t-shirt.

“Write a character worth escaping into, who does all the things we dream about doing, that we as women are told we cannot do or cannot be.”

If you are a woman, young or old, the world is not a place made for you, especially if you are a woman of color or a non-Christian. Society does shame you. It targets you. It whispers stupid shit into your ear about how you’ll never be pretty, or loved, or have worth… unless you buy this awesome deodorant, or wear this mascara, or lose ten pounds. It pits you against other girls. It traps you under a glass ceiling and pays you seventy-seven cents on the dollar compared to the men you see gliding through that glass like water, and tells you that you should just be grateful for the opportunity to even see the glass. Society traps you in pretty pink boxes with prescribed labels from which escape is nigh impossible.

Perhaps that is why I get so irate when I see “I want to write a story but I don’t have an idea and blah and blah and blah…”. You’re so desperate to escape that you’re blinded to the fact that you are escaping to a prison of your own design, another trap set for you, filled with Mary-Sues and pseudo-conflicts designed to create love triangles because that is all a girl needs- to be loved.

If you want escape, I don’t fault you for that. But, if that is all you want, why in the hell would you write a story? Writing is not easy. It’s not just something that manifests once you have the idea. It requires research, planning, revising, and restarting. Writing a story is possibly the most feminine thing you can do- you are literally giving birth. You are like a goddess creating an entire universe from scratch, making something from nothing. That is no simple task. Taking on a project like that requires an intense amount of time and energy. So, again I ask, why do you want to write a story?

If you really want to write a story, you would know it. It would consume you, burning inside you like a Roman candle. You’ll daydream about taking walks along the streets in your world. Your characters will have conversations with you in your head. You’ll be wrenched out of deep sleep at 3:17 in the morning to write down the incredible idea that resolves your entire plot thanks to some weird dream.

When a writer is ready to write a story, their story, they don’t need to beg for inspiration. They already have it. When you find your idea, it will call to you to write it, and once you do, you will be a writer. Until then, practice in the kiddie pool of fan fiction because the deep end of the fiction pool is terrifying when once you take off the water wings.

“If you really want to write a story, you would know it. It would consume you, burning inside you like a Roman candle.”

…And, when that happens, ladies, please, please, break the fucking cycle. Write a character worth escaping into, who does all the things we dream about doing, that we as women are told we cannot do or cannot be. Make her strong, dynamic, complex, and opinionated. Force the plot to bend to her will based on her actions, and not make her a victim of its abuse. For fuck’s sake, be bold, and dare to write a story about a female protagonist who *gasp* doesn’t have a love interest!

We need female voices. We need women writers of every shape, size, creed, color, orientation, and ability, because women out there deserve stories worth escaping into, and we all need different ways to escape. When you’re ready, IndiePen Ink will be here to support you, to coach you, and to help you flesh out that plot instead of inventing it for you.

You have a story inside you, and it is worth being told. Advocate for yourself, for others like you. Take up space. Demand that your story be told.

Write on, young savior,

Editorials Pep Talks Real Talk Sass Writing Styles

If I Tell You That You Suck, Can You Get Over It?

A Letter from Sass:

At some point in the epic history of fiction writing, writers developed a strange obsession with perfection. The why and how have been lost to history. Perhaps that burned up in the Great Library of Alexandria? Yet, despite not understanding why they have this obsessive compulsion, writers of all levels fall into this trap daily.

I’m not singular in suffering from writer’s block. Every writer I know, regardless of their ability, preferred genre, and levels of experience and success, admits that they sometimes hit a point where they just can’t write. The problem is, as the dry spell continues, they simply don’t move on by planting the garden; learning a new recipe; finally cleaning out the closet. They wallow. They let their brain start to warp their confidence in their abilities. Suddenly, they are a no talent hack, and always have been.

This mindset is toxic. It is also counterproductive, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that takes root in the mind of a writer and prevents them from moving forward, even when inspired.

“At some point in the epic history of fiction writing, writers developed a strange obsession with perfection.”

Let’s get personal for a minute. Currently, I have a Google Doc with 30+ plot points, in chronological order, that I have already planned for in my story, Intrepid. I am not want for ideas — I am want for prose. The idea is fleshed out, and I know exactly what I need to write. I just can’t write it. For weeks, I went through the motions of my usual routine: I sat down to write with my trusty Ink Joy gel pen in a funky color, a thick DIY legal pad made out of my favorite lined paper glued together with cardboard backing, and a full pot of steaming tea, and I put on a Epic Instrumental Music video from YouTube from one of my many subscriptions.

In times past, I would have cranked out 1000-3000 words for whichever scene I had decided I was ready to write. Recently, I have been lucky to settle on a mere hundred words I didn’t want to crumple up and throw across the room.

The worst part is that I had absolutely no reason to be blocked. The depression that tends to hit me two to three times a year was not lingering around, and my anxiety is under control currently. My job, while stressful, is manageable now that I have developed a rhythm. Marriage, immediate family life, and finances are all strong right now. My friends are all doing reasonably well… so what the fuck is my problem? Why can’t I write?

Well, that is because I suck. I’m a great writer, but I am a fucking awful drafter. It feels impossible to just sit down and free write without analyzing my own word choice or flow.

Why did my character do that? Why would I write that? Where did that idea come from? Why can’t I think of a better word!?

“It has taken me a really really loooooong time to accept that sucking is not only okay, but necessary.”

Why? Because, the first draft sucks. The pre-write sucks. The first time words hit paper, they are an unruly mess. And, it has taken me a really really loooooong time to accept that sucking is not only okay, but necessary. At the risk of inspiring a chorus of that’s what she saids, let me repeat that again: Sucking is necessary.

On the days I mindblowingly, ultra suck, I try to keep these quotes in the back of my mind…

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s simply writer’s embarrassment.” –  Andrew W. Marlowe

and

“Do something. You can always correct something, but you can never correct nothing.” – Dale C. Bronner

They’re brilliant. The kind of brilliance that you only register once you read it or someone says it too you. It’s the kind of brilliance that makes you feel like a moron for not realizing the simplistic solution it delivers. It is exactly what every writer needs to be reminded of when they sit down to write. In fact, I think these two quotes should be visible to a writer in every writing space.

So, that being said, I have made graphics of condensed forms of these quotes that writers can print and hang in their writing spaces…

The first step in conquering writer’s block is realizing that the block comes not from a lack of creativity, but a lack of confidence. Not being able to write well is a phobia that is so stifling that it makes writing impossible at all.

In later articles, we will be exploring the reasons people suffer from writer’s block, and offering creative solutions to overcoming your fear, rather than stimulating your creativity. Until then, I leave you with this: If I tell you that you really do suck, can you get over it already? We all suck. Get in line kid — the queue starts with me.

Write on, young savior,