Writing needs vs. wants
I read an essay last weekend called “Body Narrative: Needs, Wants, Desires,” written by Debbie McCulliss and published in the Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review, that discusses our goals as writers. More specifically, the essay discusses how to identify and differentiate between what we need and what we want out of our writing.
McCulliss poses four questions to writers:
- What is it that you want to write?
- What is it that you need to write?
- Do you know the difference?
- How does this drive you?
The author briefly discusses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which “illustrate[s] the progression from basic to complex needs” via four categories:
- Physiological (“air, food, water, shelter, sanitation, touch”)
- Safety (“security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health, property”)
- Love and belonging (“sexual intimacy, relatedness with family and friends”)
- Esteem (“confidence, respect of others”).
McCulliss recommends making a list of your goals as a writer, separating that list into “needs” and “wants,” and sorting them into Maslow’s four categories. She urges us not to over-think this list, to include anything that comes to mind, no matter how trite or grandiose, because the ultimate goal here is to prioritize and hopefully become more the writers we want to be.
What are you top goals? How many of your goals can be multi-categorized? What goals will help you meet your basic needs versus your emotional needs—for example, a freelance writer might need several publication credits in national magazines to cover her living expenses, while someone writing about trauma might be working more toward building her confidence and sense of safety within a community.
And what needs and desires are you pursuing that might fulfill the top category in Maslow’s hierarchy: self-actualization, or “the process of growing and developing as a person to achieve individual potential,” including “creativity, spontaneity, and lack of prejudice”? Ideally, wouldn’t it be all of them?
Now, with your sorted list of goals in front of you, answer McCulliss’ four questions.
Exercises like these can help give us a better sense of why we do what we do, and maybe highlight places where our energy could be redirected and better spent. They can help us align our goals with our actions. If you’re struggling as a writer, maybe this exercise could even help you see how much a part of you writing is, or the good you’re doing through writing, and how you could do more.
Finally, we can even begin to see how our needs and wants can work in tandem to propel us toward self-actualization.
What would self-actualization look like for you, as a writer?