In this series of posts, I’ll be talking about top secret code words used by me as a writer. Some may be used by other writers, too, in which case I picked them up from elsewhere. Some are the terms I am using for my own creative process. And I figured, if they’re worth me churning in my brain, they might be worth sharing online with other indie writers as well.
Today’s relevant code word is: MASLOW.
Does that sound familiar? Like from your high school psychology class or from a medical or educational college track?
I am doing both of those right now. My day job (at the moment) is teaching at a nursing college. I teach my students about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. And when I do, I remember its relevance to my own life. Especially when it comes to my writing life.
I actually remember this from my own high school psych class, back in, say, 1993? It made that much sense to me that it’s stuck for that long.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs basically means this: If you don’t have your basic needs met, it’s really damn hard to concentrate on higher ambitions.
For example, if you don’t have food on your plate or a roof to sleep under, completing your PhD isn’t going to get a lot of attention in your life.
For my students, many of whom are coming from low-income, high-crime areas, completing their nursing degree is made more difficult by trying to find daycare for their kids, working one or two other jobs to feed those kids, and living in less-than-ideal (sometimes dangerous) situations.
As you can see from the diagram (borrowed from here), the bottom level of the pyramid is your physiologic (bodily) needs. The top is “self-actualization.” This is like transcendence, reaching Nirvana, etc. Writing, in my case, would probably count as this top tier.
But if you’re lacking in the lower tiers, it’s hard to reach the top. A pyramid without a base falls apart. Climbing a ladder with no lower rungs to step on means you’re probably not going to reach the upper rungs.
For me, I have a lot going on in my life right now. I’m six months into my Navy-to-civilian life transition, having moved my family from Japan to Ohio, and I’m still struggling. There are tasks not yet done. We are far from settled into a routine for our new life. We’ve only been in our new home a month. Had our worldly possessions for less than that. (And why do we own so much crap, anyway?!) And now I’m looking at possibly changing jobs already. As the primary breadwinner (read as only breadwinner), that’s a big deal.
And yet, every day, I’m thinking about which books I should write next. How long it’s going to take me to finish the one I started years ago and am still fighting with. Which series should I wrap up and get out there? Which genre should I be striving in: sci-fi, fantasy, mystery? What’s going to get me the response/audience I need to ultimately sustain myself as a writer: superheroes, space pirates, space marines, dungeon questing?
Oh yeah, and how am I going to feed my family in the meantime? When can I spend time reading with my son to get him up to where he should be? Is there a morning coming that I can catch up on my lost sleep? When am I going to hit the gym to lose weight so I don’t get kicked out of the Navy Reserves?
The lesson here is (at least for me, maybe even for you): It’s okay not to beat yourself up over this. There are more important things going on than writing about space pirates.
No, I’m not getting as much writing done as I’d like. Few indies ever do. We all want to have a ten-book series on the best seller list yesterday.
Yes, I can optimize my day, muster a little more dedication, and carve out more writing time than I am now. I may not be making the absolute maximum effort toward these goals. I could squeeze out a little more blood-like conviction for my cause.
But I have to balance that against everything else. I need to give myself some breathing room.
I do have a lot of important life shit happening. And it’s important to acknowledge that, too. Don’t beat myself up too terribly bad, because the fact is that I am a father, husband, teacher, breadwinner, naval officer, nurse, etc. I have other things in life that require my time, too. Even though the dream is to be writing full-time, I am awake right now. This is the waking world, and I have a lot of other shit to do in it. I am far from having a normalized life and schedule right now. Accept it, adapt, and move forward. Don’t feel too guilty about it. Don’t belittle yourself.
Heft that extra load on top of the iron-shod pack of stones on your back—without killing yourself in the process—and then get back to the march. You can make it. Slow and steady, that’s the way.
And that goes for you, too. There are only 24 hours in the day. Acknowledge that. Realize you do need to sleep. (It’s at the bottom of the pyramid, see?) Your kids do need to see you. Writing is important, but it’s not the most important thing in your life.
And that’s okay.