Tony Robbins identifies six human needs.
The need for:
I’ve been reflecting this past week on how writing may be one of the few areas in my life that fulfills all six of my human needs, which is why, I suppose, I can’t conceive of a life without it.
There is my quest for certainty. I can be certain of my own effort. I carve out time each day, or each week, to sit down and put pen to paper (because, yes, I am old school) and I can count on that. I know the routine of the writing life. It is predictable and accountable (some might even say boring). But then there is uncertainty too. I’m always working on a different project, a different character, a different story, and I never know exactly where a story is going to go. I mean, sure, I write to an outline (except in some cases, and boy was that ever uncertain), but within the structure I have a lot of creative latitude and I exploit my power of choice. Significance… I suppose it’s arrogant to believe that my craft makes me significant, but I do.
I’m of the opinion that artistic expression – be it literary or visual or auditory – adds value. Even bad art. Even books that cause me to want to claw my eyes out so I can’t be further offended by the atrocity of the words on the page have a place. Junk books. Like junk food. There’s no real nutritive value, but tell me you don’t have an occasional lapse into sinful, empty deliciousness.
My point is this: Artistic expression offers a tangible social benefit.
How about further down on Robbins’ list? Contribution. People who do what they love and are dedicated to it can’t help but contribute in some way. Whether it be a world-renowned French chef whose foie gras is like heaven on the tongue, a stellar athlete whose ability to run across a field to catch a ball in midair mimics that of a cheetah pursuing a gazelle, or an unknown little author, patiently (or impatiently) churning out book after book waiting for her big break, those of us who are lucky enough to do what we love can’t help but positively impact the world around us, even if we’re merely showing by example that it is possible to live a passion-fueled existence.
Growth. How am I growing as a writer? Imperfectly, non-linearly, but, I hope, consistently. Over the past several years, I’ve attended writers’ conferences, and workshops, read books dedicated to the craft, listened to countless fiction and nonfiction works (Thank you, Audible) and had my work critically examined by editors, agents, a writing coach, and some of my peers. Each step helps me learn and evolve as an author, discover my authentic voice, and stop bullshitting myself about my capabilities. Perhaps, the best thing I’ve ever been told about my writing was a bit of feedback I received from my former literary agent, who told me my writing was “good, but not phenomenal.”
When I asked her how to make it phenomenal, she said she didn’t know.
“Where am I lacking?” I asked, hoping to figure out the exact areas of weakness and step up my literary game. “Is it character development, plot, theme, setting, story structure, syntax? What should I be doing differently?”
She told me – again – that she didn’t know. And then – almost as an afterthought – offered up the following advice: “You need to learn to bleed onto the page.”
I had no idea what she meant, and I still think that, on a literal level, it’s horrible advice. I’ve had more than my share of paper cuts and none of them ever made me a better writer. But I will say that writing my memoir pushed me so much more deeply into my art that I laughed out loud and sobbed while writing it and, I hope, achieved what my former agent was after.
One day, after the memoir is published, I think I’ll smear my blood on its pages and FedEx a red-stained copy to her.
Seriously, though, growth is essential. Every criticism I’ve ever gotten as an author has been ten times more valuable than praise.
So, how does love fit in? I’m not going to cop out and say that I love what I do (although that’s true) or that being a writer is a form of self-actualization, which is a form of self-love (although that’s also true).
Writing is my gift to the people I love and care about. My characters aren’t just made-up images in my head. They are flesh and blood representations of humanity. I write about a girl with epilepsy because my sister has epilepsy and I want to better understand her experience. I write about a struggling addict because many of the people I love (myself included) have struggled with addiction in some form. I write about a girl at risk of committing suicide because I know what it feels like to be lost and lonely and I want my character to speak to someone who needs to see herself reflected in another.
I love my readers and the practice of writing is an enaction of that love.
I’m still trying to figure out if anything else in my life meets those six needs. I have yet to come up with something, but, if I do, I’ll keep you posted…