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Writing to meet your Needs

August 18, 2010
Old books

Most writers ‘get stuck’ at some point. Call it Writers Block, Writers Apathy, Writers Death.. Its particularly frustrating if you are writing under contract or within a timeline and – as much as you understand that stress does little for writers block – those concerns tend to multiply until you are paralyzed ( or certainly feel like you are!). With NaNoWriMo approaching, it’s a good time to question why you have chosen a particular storyline, characters or even your motivation to write at all.

If you delve into our archives there are some excellent articles on freeing the creative flow.  While I am not discounting that process, this article will look at an authors ‘need’ to write.

Humans are driven by deep instincts or a hunger to fulfill one or more of the six fundamental human needs (see footnote for origins of this psychology theory). Our behaviour (and those of the characters we as writers create) arise in the way in which we choose to meet these needs on a consistent basis – either in a positive or a negative manner. By understanding these needs, an author is able to understand and formulate a deeper appreciation of the actions characters take and the way in which they react to certain environments or events.

Equally ,by writing  an article, a short story, a script of a book, an author is attempting to meet at least one of these needs themselves. It is interesting to take an introspective moment here and evaluate your motivation for writing – either on a whole or for a specific piece or for a project.

Think about a specific behaviour, action or piece of writing (eg “why does that character drive over the speed limit consistently?”, “why does that character always eat chocolate when they are angry?”, “why am I writing a piece on environmental doom?”) and then evaluate this list to better understand your personal motivations and examine which ones seem the MOST significant. Each need will resonate at some level – but you are looking for one that is the most important.

It may help to rank them for each event or behaviour and then within each need; give it a score out of 10. Meeting a need at a level 10 donates that it totally fulfills every aspect; having an event or a behaviour that has 3 needs being met at a level 10 donates that it is an addiction . (this is not necessarily a negative thing though!)

Look at what you do to fulfill the needs of others as it will likely make a difference in what and how you do what you do and in the way you describe and explain what you do.

Love & Connection
This is the need to feel love from and for, and connection with others and the need to bond, experience intimacy and to feel oneness with either others or with yourself.

The need to feel that you have meaning to others, you are unique, special, important. (NB: potential conflict with the need for Love & Connection)

Certainty or Comfort
The need for the feeling that everything is settled, secure, and that there are no nasty surprises around the corner.

Uncertainty or Variety
The precise opposite, and potentially in conflict with the need for Certainty. The need to feel that life is interesting, diverse, exciting and challenging.

The crazy thing with the human needs is that there are deliberate conflicts – but each are necessary! (i.e the need for certainty and the need for variety) Everyone, without exception, finds a way to get these first four needs fulfilled, even if it is in a very low quality and sometimes negative way. An example of this is the overwhelming need for Love & Connection to explain why someone will stay in an abusive relationship. No matter how awful the abuse is, it is a form of connection – so it is being met – possibly at a level 10 – but in a negative manner) Without appropriate help the individual chooses to stay, over the uncertainty of leaving, with the fear of living without any kind of connection.

The fifth and sixth needs are not met by everyone, yet unconsciously it is something humans will try to attain as it the key to a life of fulfillment. Survival is possible and usual without fulfilling these two needs – but without them, a life may feel hollow or meaningless.

The need for the feeling that we are growing, intellectually, spiritually, physically… To become better, to improve ones skills, to stretch and excel.

The need to feel that we are giving of ourselves for the benefit of other living things – that we are contributing to life itself…

Everyone has their own unique requirements for the fulfillment of each of the six human needs. The degree to which those requirements are being met in a positive, high quality and sustainable way defines the overall quality of life

An example which may assist here is that of a woman who loves to scrapbook. Her love and connection needs are met at a 10 as she feels very connected with her friends and family as she creates pages. She may also gift these to them. Significance is being met at a 10 as she may be outstanding at this and receive awards or recognition – or perhaps she teaches others to do this ( which can also meet her need in contribution). There is certainty and comfort as she understands the basics and there is a high level of variety as each photo or page demands different themes and actions. She may rank growth at a 10 as she is consistently learning and bettering herself. She may even rank contribution as a 10 as she may donate her classes, her time or her work to charities or to communities and see her work bettering others lives. This is an example of someone who has an addiction to scrapbooking and whose 6 human needs are being met at a high level. Its not for me to comment –but perhaps she scrapbooks to the detriment of other things in her life – her health, her family, her finances? You might like to think about why a drug addict is addicted to their substance by going through the 6 needs. It certainly gives you a better appreciation of what motivates others by doing this exercise.

Now, think about your writing, your article or your book.  If you are intending on entering NaNoWriMo this year, focus on the reasons and the needs which are being met by your undertaking this project. Particularly with something as intense as NaNo, you are going to require a near ‘addiction’ in order to get across the line.

By understanding what needs are being met, you are able to readjust or refocus in order to regain your motivation and get out of the stuck place you are. Shift your focus now to some of your characters and answer questions about their needs and motivations. New possibilities and back stories will possibly present themselves whilst you are doing this process and you will free yourself of your temporary writers block.

Footnote – “Human Needs Psychology (HNP)” was developed by Anthony Robbins and currently being taught as a mainstream psychology within universities. For more about Tony – see his site –  or google ‘Six Human Needs’ or “Human Needs Psychology”

Image of old books via Wikipedia

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Annie Evett is well and truly addicted to  writing.. and to certain characters and plotlines…..might be argued that this is not a positive thing….Be Annies buddy during NaNo here or just stalk her shameless self promotions here on Twitter  or here on Audio Boo and start your escape into her world here
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  1. August 18, 2010 2:24 pm

    Perfect timing for this post, Annie — I’ve just started a new wip, and I’m working on fleshing out my new mc. Thanks for such great information.

  2. August 19, 2010 6:30 pm

    Well strangely enough this has pushed me towards “yes I’m doing NaNoWriMo”! There are a couple of needs that I have that will be filled by doing it, so why not? Thanks Annie!

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