Thursday, January 28, 2010

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

When I attended college, my English teacher taught us about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Simply stated, the theory professes the following:

Man’s most basic, primitive needs must be met before he can consider other needs.

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? See the list below:
  • Physical Needs: air, food, water, sleep, sex
  • Safety: shelter, physical and financial security, health
  • Social (Love/Belonging): family, friendship, acceptance in a group, intimacy
  • Esteem: confidence, respect, acknowledgement
  • Self-Actualization: morality, wisdom, personal potential, privacy
  • Cognitive: acquire and understand knowledge
  • Aesthetic: appreciate and create beauty and structure
Hmm…does the need for food, water, or sex always take precedence over morality? Not necessarily. Someone with high moral character might deny himself sex before marriage. A starving mother may feed her child before feeding herself.

 Writers are always trying to find motivation to move their characters to action. Our characters are constantly involved in relationships, solving mysteries or crimes, seeking betterment, more knowledge, money or glory, and sometimes they are totally insane. Understanding this theory and how man often defies the rule can help us better create believable characters and maybe even help us introduce plot twists. And don’t forget motivation such as attachment, comfort, trust/dependency, occupation, and control are additional needs to throw into the mix.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Serial Commas: To Use or Not to Use, That Is the Question

I do a lot of editing at work, and one of the main annoyances I see over and over again is the missing comma before a conjunction in a series of three or more items: red, white and blue. Unless you are writing a newspaper article, a proven venue for saving space, in most American style guides, this is incorrect grammar usage and is considered the Wrong Rule. The phrase should read: red, white, and blue.

Now before you get riled and swear to me that everyone has accepted this grammatical faux pas, that it’s a matter of preference, let me cite the sources I use as my foundation.

» Chicago Manual of Style
» American Psychological Association (APA) Style
» The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
» Elements of Style
» Modern American Usage: A Guide.
» A Manual for Writers
» Gregg Reference Manual
» Scientific Style and Format

Most people who argue for ommision quote from newspaper style guides, which include the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. Some British writers also have jumped on this grammatical band wagon. You might ask why most American standard usage keeps this vital comma. The reason is to prevent confusing combinations of the final two words: eggs, bacon, and toast. “Bacon and toast” is not one idea. If I write eggs, toast and jam, and bacon or eggs, bacon, and toast and jam, the potential confusion becomes apparent.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Just Get the Words Down

I had to laugh when I attended my writer’s group this week. I had shared the first scene from my novel and was telling everyone that when I begin a writing session, I usually read what I wrote the day before and then continue to write more.

An excellent writer in the group, Donna Hatch, looked at me and said, “You’ve got to stop doing that. Just keep writing. Get the words down.” Obviously her insight didn’t seep in the first time because I again told everyone how I often go back and add information I have forgotten.

Donna looked at me again and said, “Don’t do that. Don’t edit. Place asterisks in your paragraph with a reminder to yourself and keep writing.”

Each time she tutored me, the thought became more prevalent in my mind. I think she even admonished me a third time when I told the group I’m worried about writing a query letter that will snag an editor’s attention. But it wasn’t until then I finally got the point. I can’t even begin to tell her how much I appreciate the reminder.

We’ve all heard this counsel over and over again, and I know every one of you is far better at obeying such wisdom than I am. I guess I’m an editor at heart. I want to make my scenes as perfect as possible before I go on. But editing is a left-sided brain function that can stifle right-sided brain creativity. Unless one is exceptionally gifted and can use both sides of the brain at the same time, I think we should follow Donna’s advice and just get the words down.

I’ll say it again, for emphasis. “Just get the words down.” Now stop reading this and get to work.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shoot for the Stars

I often start writing projects I never finish because I stew over the significance of my message. Since writing drains me of time, blood and tears, I figure I had better use my resources on endeavors that lift and edify or on those that change thinking in important and essential ways. You know—tasks worthy of my trouble.

I'm not saying that other forms of writing aren’t just as noteworthy, but I have to be true to myself. If I have to struggle to write, I want to write something that will mean something to ME years from now. I want to make my mark on the universe, in the most comfortable method for my psyche and personality.

I like to laugh, and I enjoy a story where I don’t have to dig too deeply to ponder the meaning, but someone forgot to install my funny bone before they sent me to earth. If I attempted to write the witty and fun-filled fiction that Janette Rallison pens, I’d never get my nose in the publishing door. More importantly, in the back of my mind, in the very root of my soul, I can’t ignore the stirrings that drive me toward the more serious side of my craft either.

That’s okay. We all have to find our niche for telling our stories, and thank goodness they differ in scope and purpose than in other authors’ works. It would be a dull existence if we had to read the same style and category all the time. And there is all kinds of room in the writer's mansion. But that which we feel comfort in creating, should come from the best that we have within us.

I love President Spencer W. Kimball's quote about greatness. "Let us remember, too, that greatness is not always a matter of the scale of one's life, but of the quality of one's life. True greatness is not always tied to the scope of our tasks, but to the quality of how we carry out our tasks whatever they are. In that attitude let us give of our time, ourselves and our talents to the things that really matter now, things that will still matter a thousand years from now."

So in all we do as writers, I hope we strive for greatness in whatever form of the written word we pursue. “Shoot for the stars,” my friend, Anna Arnett, says, “and you might hit the top of the telephone pole.” And if we strive for a quality ride, I’m willing to bet we'll hit even higher.