Once upon a time, there was a guy named Maslow. He was into finding out what got people motivated and helped them reach the top of their fields. In essence, he said that if you didn’t have your basic needs met, then you couldn’t achieve higher stages of self-actualisation: the realisation or fulfilment, of one’s talents and potential.
Applied to writers, that’s the point where we want to be. That incredible state of flow, where the words come quickly and the language is superb. Where the words that we write envelope, encompass, inspire and move our readers at every phrase.
So what does it take for us to reach that stage? Or is it just another crock of psychological mumbo-jumbo? As I contemplate my first two weeks in The Content Castle, how does this rationale stack up against the reality of trying to be a super productive and supremely creative writer?
Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up…
Level 1: Physiological Needs
Physiological needs are fundamental to human survival. If you don’t fulfil these, your body can’t function properly, and you’ll ultimately die. Damn! It makes sense that we have to meet these requirements first or we won’t last too long, let alone write a masterpiece. Air, water and food are no-brainers. Clothing and shelter protect us from the elements. And there are a few other things such as sexual instinct and sexual competition that helps ensure the continuation of our species.
As far as us writers go, I’d have to agree. If I’m hungry, thirsty, hot or cold, or feeling frisky, then it’s a little hard to focus on getting the job done. And yet, when you do get in a state of flow those things seem insignificant. It seems that once those needs are inherently met, they no longer become a priority.
Applied to my stay here at The Content Castle it seems all but one of those needs are met. We have more than adequate climate-controlled shelter, comfortable beds, clean water (and a shop a few steps down the road for beer!) and are spoilt to the max by the lovely Mina, who makes us a whole raft of delicious, nutritious meals throughout the week. I’d add to the fundamentals, decent WiFi … and we certainly have that. But is it enough to help me shift my writing to a higher plane? Let’s move on and see…
Level 2: Safety Needs
Maslow found that once those basic Level 1 needs were relatively satisfied, a quest for safety and security takes precedence and dominates the behaviour of the average human.
Safety and security needs encompass:
Personal security: finding protection from violence and abuse
Economic security: seeking the ability to earn and afford the basics, and achieve financial sustainability
Health and well-being: the absence of a harmful environment
Safety: protection from accidents and illness and their adverse impacts
At The Content Castle, we can feel safe. Thailand is a peaceful country, and Koh Samui even further removed from any political turmoil. It costs nothing but words to be here, and helps writers improve their prospects of paid assignments after they leave, meeting that financial security aspect for even the most budget conscious.
By Asian standards, the house is one of the safer I’ve stayed in with smoke detectors, professional wiring and locks that work. Sure the traffic is less ordered than what we have in the West, yet it has nothing on the craziness and chaos of places like Saigon and Bangkok. Street food stalls in the surrounding area are plentiful and clean, and Mina’s kitchen is spotless.
So our personal safety, health and well-being are well looked after. Let’s tick Level 2 off…
Level 3: Social belonging
With physiological and safety needs fulfilled, people look to interpersonal relationships and need to belong. If you feel isolated, neglected, shunned or ostracised, your ability to form emotionally meaningful friendships and family bonds is affected, and you’re not going to perform at your best.
Humans, including writers, need to feel accepted among their social peers, and within their networks both personal and professional. This need can be so intense that, depending on the strength of peer pressure, it can override the need for the lower two levels.
Pondering the environment and relationships at The Content Castle, it seems we have a healthy balance of pressure to perform with the freedom to express our individual perspectives. Large, comfortable community areas encourage interaction and social exchanges between the like-minded residents who have varying levels of experience and areas of expertise. Secluded nooks and crannies and private rooms allow plenty of opportunity for personal introspection and thought.
So Level 3 is covered, and there’s only one more before the top…
Level 4: Esteem
We all have a need to feel respected, accepted and valued by others. Maslow writes of lower and higher self-esteem. The lower version is the need for respect from others in the form of status, recognition and prestige. The higher version presents as a need for self-respect — a feeling of mastery, competence, independence and freedom.
The relevance to writers is remarkable. We write, not only to earn a living, but also for recognition and a sense that we’re contributing value, mastering our trade, and creating a life of independence and freedom from doing something we love. But our self-esteem is a fragile beast. Working in creative fields can be brutal. An editor’s sharp red pen and barbed comments can dent that veneer of confidence in a flash.
At The Content Castle, we have the opportunity to hone our craft and build confidence in our worth across multiple fields of writing. The feedback loop and editing process is supportive and provides a barrier to the harsher thoughts of clients. Regular “good jobs/well done,” virtual applause and acceptance of your work, all contribute to building a sense that this writing thing can actually succeed.
So Level 4 needs are met … What’s next?
Level 5: Self-actualization
“What a man can be, he must be.” (Or in this case, a woman). This quote from Kurt Goldstein forms the basis of Maslow’s theory that we seek self-actualisation. The ability to understand what our full potential is, and then achieve that potential to deliver the most that we are capable of.
As writers that manifests in a desire to reach the pinnacle of our craft. To publish that successful book, to write for the top publications. But according to Maslow, you not only have to achieve levels 1 to 4 but also master them. That might take some time.
So although I might have yet to reach the dizzy heights of being the best writer I can, a stint at The Content Castle does help embed the foundation while I’m here. The ability to work on a range of projects, in a safe, secure environment, with like-minded, supportive peers has all the elements Maslow says are necessary. Now I guess it’s just up to me.
Written by Sharyn Nilson, founder of Catch our Travel Bug