Freedom and Captivity in Writing, by Deborah Jenkins

We went to the zoo last week to Meet the Meerkats, my daughter's 25th birthday present. She's adored meerkats since she was twelve, which is for over half her life, so as you can imagine, excitement levels were high. Here's the proof: -

After the experience, we were allowed to wander around the zoo which was delightfully quiet on an October Monday so we made the most of it. I noticed something interesting. On every information board there was a plaque telling us about each animal including, on the top right hand corner, how long it would live in the wild compared with how long it lived in captivity. Like the black tailed prairie dog which can, incredibly, live twice as long in captivity: -

They probably do this in all zoos but I'd never noticed before. It made me think about the whole idea of freedom and captivity: safety as opposed to risk, boredom instead of variety, protection versus adventure. Of course it's not straightforward. There are lots of reasons why some animals are better off in zoos - reasons of conservation, for example, but it fascinates me how big the difference in lifespan can be.

As published writers, we lead risky, adventurous lives. As Nikki Salt pointed out in her wonderful post about rejection, we do crazy things like put ourselves out there to be knocked back. We weave stories with broken pieces, including some of our own, sometimes to see them criticised. We try to interest people in our books with differing results. When we are successful in doing so, if we're not careful the angst just changes. What if this is a one off? What if I'm a fraud? What if my writing isn't actually any good?

The truth is, success doesn't guarantee peace as the life stories of many authors demonstrate: Mark Twain, Stephen King, Sylvia Plath and many more. Most of us won't experience that level of success in our writing but that doesn't preclude us from reacting with anxiety and fear instead of confidence and hope. We all need to crawl into our safe places from time to time, when we've had a rejection perhaps, or a jarring review. Taking time out is important, conserving energy and helping us stay the course in the long term. 

I'm writing this post on World Mental Health Day and it strikes me that the freedom to write can itself become a prison if we don't put the right checks and balances in place - rest, a good diet, time with family and friends, the things that promote positive mental health whatever we do. 

Could you live without your writing dreams? I'm sure many of us have tried. I found not-writing made me unhappy so it wasn't an option, though that might change one day. Do you think there'll be a point where you'll want to give up the adventure for the sake of an easier, more peaceful, perhaps even longer, life? I can imagine a day when I might want to write just for myself or my family. Research a family tree for example or write stories from my life for my children and grandchildren. Not yet though.

For now at least, I think I'll stay in the wild.

Where are you at the moment in your writing journey? Do you feel a sense of freedom or captivity? 

Deborah Jenkins in the author of Braver, published by  Fairlight Books.

It's available from bookshops, such as Waterstones , Blackwell's and Amazon worldwide.

Deborah has also written textbooks, educational articles and a novella, The Evenness of Thingsavailable in both paperback and e-book.

She likes to wander aloud about the crazy, inspiring and inappropriate, on her blog at 

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