You can write whatever you want.
No, seriously. You are a writer. If you want to write about the fine mesh of belly button lint, or wax eloquent in a poem about how sunlight glints off the dewdrops on a dandelion in the early morning, or even share your deepest, darkest sexual fantasy, you can do it.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to sell.
I’m preparing to write another novella – yes, I know, but I swear I have a couple novels in the pipeline too! This one is for a particular anthology I have my eye on for a fall release. I had a great idea for a fresh take on the King Arthur legend for this one. It came to me a few days ago, and my subconscious writer brain has been happily playing with it like a kitten with a ball of string.
So this morning I decided to run it by the editor, just to make sure I was on the right track. My last story for this publisher ended up being a serious misfire, and although it ended well, I didn’t want to make the same mistake.
She didn’t love the idea. “King Arthur has been done. And done and done and done.” She acknowledged that it was possible to still bring something fresh to the story, but it was clear that she was biased against the idea.
Now, the fact that it has been done isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for me. I like playing with tropes and things that other people think have been done to death. But when Tim Gunn tells you your dress is for shit, you’d better listen to him or you’re going home.
You see, it’s very possible that I could craft a beautiful, original, compelling story using the King Arthur myth as a backdrop. It might make readers laugh and cry and giggle with amazement. But none of that will matter if it gets rejected at the editor’s doorstep. Going down that path, I’m starting the game one strike down.
And yes, I’m a writer. I can write whatever I want. But if I want to sell it, I have to pay at least a little attention to what the public wants, and before that, to what the editor is looking for.
It’s a balance.
In the end, I will choose another legend for this story, something a little less well-trodden. And it will also be a fabulous story that will delight my readers. And because I listened, it has much more of a chance to actually reach them.