Maslow for Writers

Charles Bukowski is one of my favorite writers. The man, before achieving his literary renown, lived in abject poverty in bug-infested apartments without light or food, with nothing but bottles of wine and his typewriter. The man did it, he got his work out there, but it doesn’t have to be that hard to make it as a writer.

If you want to be a great writer, aside from making a habit of writing on a consistent basis (ideally daily), you should strongly consider working on meeting your basic needs, and then ascending past that towards having a degree of creature comforts. If you have some other way to make money, if you can move to a pleasant environment, if you can do what you can to treat yourself well, your mindset will not be in survival mode. Then, you can really plug forward with your writing.

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist. He’s most known for Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory that proposed that people move from meeting their most basic needs (food, water, sleep, etc.) to their highest ones (creativity, problem solving, morality). You can read more about Maslow’s theory here. Essentially, Maslow postulates that as people progress, their needs become more refined towards the process of self-actualization.

Writers are no different than any other individual. If you are struggling to find stable housing, food, or any semblance of peace, you may amass plenty of material to write about, but it will be incredibly difficult to find the time to write—let alone have the peace of mind necessary to focus on crafting excellent literature. It’s hard to take time out to write when your life is utterly unstable. I know that there are many exceptions, those writers who compose incredible works, even in profuse amounts, while buying their meals from the dollar menu, but it’s a lifestyle that is inherently untenable. While you work towards your goal of becoming a successful writer, if you happen to be in dire straits, try working simultaneously towards meeting your basic needs. I guarantee it will only help your writing going forward.

The takeaway? There’s a great novel by Chuck Kinder called Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale, loosely based on Kinder’s friendship with the acclaimed author Raymond Carver. It talks about how chaotic their lives were until they made it as writers, and how their crazy lifestyle almost killed them, how their lives were like nightmares. It doesn’t have to be this way until you make it. You can choose another narrative.

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