Let’s Talk a Little About the Hierarchy of Needs

Hi SEers, John with you again. Today I would like to discuss how your needs could affect your writing. To do this effectively, I’m going to pop back to my training in organizational behavior. Wait, don’t run from the room just yet. This is not meant to be a lecture but some food for thought the next time you get stuck. To understand the subject, we should call upon one of the experts in the area of human needs. Yes, I mean Abraham Maslow, the developer of the hierarchy of needs theory of psychological health.

Let’s take a quick look that the hierarchy of needs theory and then relate it to our writing life.

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There are some important aspects of this pyramid that pertain to writers. A general overview of the theory is we humans can enter a state of self-actualization provided the other needs at the lower levels of the pyramid are satisfied. Once we reach the level of self-actualization, we only stay there as long as the lower levels remain satisfied.

For writers, the self-actualization part of the pyramid where the creative process is centered should be our goal. If you believe Maslow to get there takes a little more than sitting down at a table and beginning the great American novel. There are other considerations. Let’s look at them.


This is where the rubber hits the road. We are talking about those things that sustain life. Gotta have air, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis (Internal body regulators), elimination of waste. Absent any one of these things, a person is stuck on the lowest level of the pyramid. Instead of thinking about a storyline, a writer may be trying to find food.


This need revolves around security. The degree needed does differ by individual but generally includes security of the body, the job, resources, morality, family, health, and property. Imagine how difficult it would be to write if the feeling of security was missing in any one of these. Many times when one gets sick, the idea of writing is the last concern.


This is the need for warm and fuzzy relationships. The need is satisfied by friendships, family, and intimacy. Writers work a very lonely trade. It is no wonder then that most writers seek out others in which to share that loneliness.  There have been writers who have lived a Spartan and lonely existence and still managed to produce exceptional work. Not everyone can be so engineered.


Here are the various needs that all boil down to how one sees themselves, others, and how others see them. Self-esteem, confidence, sense of achievement, respect of others, and respect by others are all parts of the equation. Without a feeling of achievement and self-esteem, a writer is destined for failure.


Ah, the arrival at the big Kahuna. Here there is a sense of morality, creativity, spontaneity, ability to problem solve, lack of prejudice, and acceptance of facts.  This exalted position should be the sweet spot to which every writer aspires. There is nothing that can’t be accomplished while in this exalted state. The sad part is this state is not permanent. As life presents its challenges, the grasp on self-actualization can be tenuous. Just think about what happens when a writer has skipped breakfast, and it is now past lunch. The body homeostasis wants additional nutrition to stay in balance. All of a sudden, the writer can think of nothing but food. Self-actualization goes out the window only to be traded for a Big Mac.

If all writers would take a moment to consider that moving up to and down from self-actualization is a process that can occur several times a day, hours lost in trying to figure out why the writing is so tough may be saved. The whole process, once understood, can be managed.

Next time on June 9th, I will offer suggestions on managing moving up to self-actualization and what to do if it is obvious that the goal doesn’t appear achievable.

How about your quest for self-actualization? Do you get there quite often or hardly ever? Do you really need to be self-actualized? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

74 thoughts on “Let’s Talk a Little About the Hierarchy of Needs

  1. Pingback: A Little More About the Hierarchy of Needs | Story Empire

  2. I remember Maslow from grad school, John. So funny and yes, the writer needs all these things. Your post also made me think of the many ways writers can use these needs to mess with our characters who are trying to achieve their goals. Throw a wrench into one of the lower levels, and the character has another obstacle standing in his or her way! Fun post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Let’s Talk a Little About the Hierarchy of Needs – AKYEMANSA ROYALS

  4. I have studied Maslows hierarchy of needs as I teach however have never though about using his theory for myself even though it makes sense and everyone fluctuates throughout the day as they experience different needs. Thank you for your very detailed and interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: #ReblogAlert – This Week on Story Empire | The Write Stuff

  6. Yeah, with qualifications. If the bills are paid and the house tasks are done, (the first two levels of the pyramid) then everything else is subject to the WIBBOW test. Would I Be Better Off Writing? 🙂 … and my answer is, yep, just about every single time. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oooh, this is a topic that’s covered in my business subject in school. It’s an interesting idea, but does have some flaws, like the needs not needing to be in a strict order, and others valuing some of the needs more than others.
    My business teacher always amused us saying how the hierarchy was originally made for patients in an insane asylum amusing, and now it’s being taught in business haha

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Pingback: Let’s Talk a Little About the Hierarchy of Needs – الإستثنائي الفوري

  9. It’s interesting to think about moving up and down the pyramid multiple times, John. I remember studying this chart, but I thought it was presented as a continuous journey. I have to say, it makes more sense the way you describe it here. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thought-provoking post, John. I think all creative types bounce up and down the pyramid, only finding that perfect balance while we’re “in the zone.” As writers, we study human behavior to breath life into characters. Pointing the same lens at ourselves is much harder but equally important. It’s especially cool to learn the hierarchy of needs. Thank you. Looking forward to your follow-up post!

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Hi John, you are spot on with this post. If we are stressed or upset about something, it is hard to focus on writing. I agree that is why people struggled to write last year during Covid. It only impacted me for about 3 weeks. I think people who live in developing countries are used to things going seriously pear-shaped often with riots, political instability, power outages, and the like. Our expectations are not as staid as people who live in first world countries so I think the shock of Covid was much higher in the more developed countries.

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  12. This is such a great post, John. I totally agree that this entire process can be repeated throughout the period of a day. And, from the perspective of our characters, it is difficult for a hero to keep the main goal in sight when his belly is grumbling from lack of food. This is definitely food for thought and I look forward to the next segment!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. With that intro, I half expected Abe to get some lines of dialog. This is a fantastic post. I think you should come at it again some day from the character POV. This applies to our characters as much as it does us. Gives us all something to think about.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Harmony did a post on characters but you are right. It does apply. My interest is in the factors that inhibit motivation. I think writers need to rely on their personal motivation so much that the more people know about it, the more control there my be. Just saying. Yes, I thought about giving Abe a couple of lines but a lot of the readers would think I was crazy since they don’t know me. (or at least confirm the fact) Thanks for the nice compliment, Craig. 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  14. John, I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen this framework mentioned in some context over my nearly 40 year career. When I was working toward my doctorate, I had one professor tell us that the theory was flawed because Mazlow’s sample size was small and skewed. In my practical frame of mind, I asked him if his opinion would be on the test and he said no. That being said, this is a useful lens in which to look at writing or any career or aspirational pursuit.

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  15. I am very self-aware (probably too self-aware…lol!). There are days where I feel I’m on a roller coaster on that pyramid, depending on my anxiety levels of that day (and I hate roller coasters). I have used this pyramid for my characters often. I look forward to your next post, John. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Wow, John. I’ve never thought of this before, but I do see us moving up and down the pyramid at various times of the day. A couple of things stood out for me. When I’m sick or overly tired, the last thing I think about is writing. I’ve often come home from a long day at work to find myself mentally exhausted. I need to move down the pyramid to correct that.

    Gwen’s comment about COVID makes me think about last year. I think a lot of people (not just the healthcare workers on the front line) are COVID weary. I know it affected my writing last year. (At least I’m blaming that!)

    Great post! I look forward to the next installment.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think COVID was to balme in keeping us on the ground level There was a large amount of safety concerns so getting beyond the second level was tough. I cannot imagine how you get any writing done after a full day of work. You are amazing. Thanks for the comment, Joan 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  17. This is such a cool post, John. I’m constantly fluctuating up and down from self-actualization. Perhaps being more aware of the changes and causes for that fluctuation will help me stay grounded on for longer periods of time. I look forward to more on this subject. Fascinating stuff!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Mae. I think we are on an elevator when it comes to our feeling of comfort. COVID held a lot of us on the ground floor for a while so it was difficult to get to the penthouse. I think there are ways to help the movement and hope to share those. Thanks again four your encouraging comment. 😊


  18. I love this line: ‘Self-actualization goes out the window only to be traded for a Big Mac.’ … spot on.

    I learnt all about this decades ago and have written about how to use it for our characters. I love that you’ve shown here how it affects the writing at a basic level. Great post, John, and thanks for sharing.

    Reblogged this on: https://harmonykent.co.uk/lets-talk-a-little-about-the-hierarchy-of-needs-story-empire-reader-wordpress-com/

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  19. Pingback: Let’s Talk a Little About the Hierarchy of Needs | Legends of Windemere

  20. Intriguing post, John. I hadn’t thought about moving up and down the scale throughout the day, but you’re right on. COVID, and its associates, haunt us and bring us to our writing knees. By attending to our basic needs, the creative energies can be freed. Excellent reminder and application. Thank you. 😊

    Liked by 4 people

  21. Great post, John 🙂 I remember learning about this chart. You make some valid points on some of the things that hold us back or distract us from the self actualization. As a writer I’ve struggled in those areas but when things are flowing I’m in that writing zone there is nothing quite like it. Everything falls away and it just me and the words. I write a lot of poetry like this. I look forward to the next post:)

    Liked by 3 people

  22. I’m one of those people who likes to feed the intellectual side of my brain as well as the creative side, so found this to be a fascinating post. I’m going to enjoy seeing your continuation of this subject, and ways you suggest to achieve self actualization on a regular basis, especially considering I’m struggling to even come close most of the time at the moment.

    Liked by 4 people

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