I’m sure most writers, at one point or another, have to debate with themselves about this: should I try to write stories for which there is a good market, so I can get published? Or should I just write whatever I want and find my niche market?
The most common answer — especially what you see from established writers with pro tips — is to write what you want. And there’s certainly logic behind it — you’re not going to enjoy yourself if you’re not writing what or how you prefer to write. And if you’re not enjoying yourself, why are you in an arguably-dying industry that does not, has not ever and will not ever pay well? Your health?
It’s the whole “have a job you enjoy and you won’t work a day in your life” argument. Which is one I’ve put a lot of stock in, in my life — I want to be a writer, I’d like to spend all my time writing, and so that’s what I focus on. I took creative writing in university, I’m trying to avoid working some unrelated part-time job just to pay the bills, etc.
But there’s actually a lot to be said for writing to a specific market. For one thing, a big part of making it as a writer is establishing an audience, a reputation. And you can’t do that without getting published. Perhaps it’s worth writing what you maybe don’t prefer to get your foot in the door — then once you’re established, you have the leeway to write whatever you want.
It also depends partly on what exactly the difference is between what you want to write and what there’s a market for. If what you want to write is all plot with no character, stories where the protagonist is completely static, stories without a beginning middle and end, or something like that, then perhaps writing what you want is actually writing poorly. In that case, writing to a “market” (i.e. people that read good writing) may be to your advantage (assuming you want to make money at it; if you’re happy writing something just because you want to, then by all means, do so — I’m not going to stop you from having fun).
Even if that’s not the case, writing to a market different from your niche might be good for you — expand your horizons as a writer.
And if I’m going to avoid a meaningless part-time job, writing things that I might actually get paid for would be a good start.
I think, ultimately, there’s a balance to be reached. You should of course always write something that you want to write — even if it’s outside your preferred genre or subject matter, it has to excite you. Otherwise there will be no heart to the piece at all (and you won’t be able to sell it even to the larger market). But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with moulding a piece so that it’s maybe a little more accessible. Or writing for a particular call for submissions — after all, that’s what I did for my first publication, Flip City.
I’m even doing it somewhat with my new novel, Shadow of Death. Originally, it was a high fantasy pirate novel with queer themes and characters. I’ve since changed it — to a YA high fantasy pirate novel with queer themes and characters. Ok, so it’s not exactly aimed at the broadest audience. But the YA market tends to be bigger than mainstream — especially when it comes to fantasy, and to queer books. And I assume pirates. (Furthermore, I don’t know why I wasn’t planning for it to be YA in the first place — YA is what I want to do the most of, and I think my writing voice suits YA better than adult fiction…)
I’m now considering going even further with the idea. I’m thinking of trying to write a mainstream literary short story. (gasp!) I don’t know if I’d be able to do it — it’s not exactly my natural voice. But there are certainly a lot more magazines and journals that accept non-speculative fiction. And I could still write about things I’m interested in writing — queer themes, for instance. And if nothing else, it would be an interesting challenge for me.
You have to write what you want to write. But I think there’s something to be said for knowing the markets, and getting the best of both choices.