29 October 2010

Motivational Friday - What keeps us Writing?

In his 1943 paper, 'A Theory of Human Motivation', Abraham Maslow proposed that all human beings have a hierarchy of needs-

- Physiological needs
- Safety needs
- Love and belonging
- Esteem
- Self-actualization

These needs are arranged in the form of a pyramid with the physiological needs at the base, and self actualization at the apex. When each level of needs is achieved, we crave the next level of needs.

Physiological needs are the fundamental requirements for survival - food, clothing and shelter. Safety needs are required for the person to feel secure - financial security, personal safety, good health and insurance to take care of anticipated calamities. Once these two needs are met, a person craves acceptance, intimacy, and a sense of belonging - in small and larger social groups.

Esteem and Self-actualization are harder to define. Esteem is the need to be respected and valued by others and by self. It includes the need for recognition, fame, status and acceptance. It also includes the need for competence, mastery, independence and freedom. Self-actualization is the need for a person to understand what the person wants to be, and to move towards achieving that potential.

If you are reading this blog, you have almost definitely gone beyond the two basic needs - for survival and for safety. You may still be struggling with health insurance, and paying your bills on time, but unless you have proceeded to the third level, you are not likely to be in the blogosphere. Blogging, by its very nature, fulfills either your need for belonging to a larger social community, or the need for recognition, status and acceptance.

Many of you are also writers or aspire to be writers, which in all likelihood indicates that you are on the journey towards self-actualization. Few people choose writing as a career to meet their basic survival and safety needs. Writing comes out of a need to put down your thoughts in writing, to connect with readers, to tell a story which you know only you can tell. The compulsion to write is driven out of a need to achieve your full potential, which includes creating a work that engages others.

Why then do so many of us struggle with Motivation? Why are we not able to give to our writing as much as we give to our other jobs (including that of a parent, a householder, a spouse or a child). We meet our deadlines in our day jobs, but struggle to do so with our writing.

Perhaps because that is the nature of the beast. Writing is fraught with risks. You may pour your heart and soul into your writing, but that is no guarantee that anyone will like what you have written. And when you finish the book that your friends like, you have the entire publication process to conquer before your book even makes it to the shelves. And of all the hundreds of thousands of books published every year, how many actually sell?

No wonder it is harder to stay motivated while writing than it is with most other things.

How do you stay motivated? No answers, only an analysis.

I believe that how easy or difficult you find to motivate yourself depends on where you are on Maslow's hierarchy.

If you write because of your need for belonging, you are probably satisfied with having your friends and critique partners appreciate your writing. You know you want to reach a wider audience, but as long as your friends are with you, you allow life to catch up with you. Several of us Burrowers fall in this category.

If you write to fulfill a need for esteem, it is enough for you to know you write well, and that if you do finish what you have started, it will be as good as the better books in the genre. You are willing to judge your own work, and as long as you know you measure up to your standards, you allow yourself to be easily distracted. I can think of one Burrower who definitely falls in this category - she excels at so many things, writing ends up taking a back seat with her.

But if, like the soon-to-be-published Burrower, you write because of a need for self-actualization, you approach writing with the dedication you bring to your day job, and you do not give up till you succeed.

Moral of the story - do all you can to ensure that writing fulfills the highest possible need on your need hierarchy.
As you can see, when it comes to Writing, most of us struggle with Motivation. Since we keep doing all we can to motivate ourselves, we have a basket full of tricks we are happy to share, but none of them really does too good a job for us, and we are always reluctant to ask someone else to apply them. We therefore decided to merge the Motivational post into our Writing one, since for most of us the two go together.

So, starting next month, we will be having a new weekday blog schedule:

Reading Monday - when we ramble about books, characters, lists and plots
Topical Tuesday - when we write about something topical, or something we feel very passionately about
Writing Wednesday - which also includes motivation
Delusional Thursday - we met on a fan-fic forum - need I say more?
Who am I Friday - when we talk about our world, our interests and our passions

Be sure to be a part of it.

And I leave you with the best 100 words I have read this week-
What mandate impelled thousands of people to design and build this intricate device, a robot capable of receiving instructions from millions of miles away? Was it conquest?

What madness drove them to pick at the alien surface, heat a soil sample, and delve into the mystery of its chemistry? A misplaced survival instinct?

And what force propelled a 350 kilogram machine through the vacuum of space before gently backing it into an alien planet's gravity well?

The answer to all: Curiosity!

There may be no evidence of intelligent life on Mars. But on Mars, there is evidence of intelligent life.
If you want more such drabbles, do visit us at the-burrow dot org.
Image credit - Phoenix digs for clues on Mars
All other photographs, writer's own


Unknown said...

A lot of them write because they want to scream out their story and what better than words that supposedly last forever...

CA Heaven said...

Your upcoming blog schedule looks interesting; guess I'll check the your blog regularly.

Curiosity is a good driving force, to me it's a major one.

And regarding intelligent life; no signs of it on Mars, and sometimes (when I read the tabloid press and watch cable TV), it seams hard to find intelligent life on Earth too >:)

Cold As Heaven

Melissa said...

This is a great post! I learned about the pyramid in psychology but it was interesting to see it geared towards writers.

Natasha said...

@ Rekha- quite. It is great how long words last, isn't it?

@ Cold As Heaven- sometimes it does seem like there is no intellegent life on Earth. and I am really glad you like our new schedule.

@ Melissa- thank you. I read up on the pyramid recently when helping the hubby prepare for a test, and I have been finding reasons to use it ever since.

Ca88andra said...

This post just made me want to work on my writing with more focus and more often - thank you!

JasonD said...

I'm blushing.