When I was in fourth grade I had Mrs. Walker for Language Arts. She taught us both reading and writing. Mrs. Walker had been a librarian before becoming a clasroom teacher and was pretty awesome. I remember her introducing our first writing lesson together by saying, "You can write about whatever you want to." My friend Danny Hammer and I quickly peppered her with possiblities, "Could it be about spies? Ghosts? Monsters? War? Aliens? Mad Scientists? Blood?" We received a big yes to all of the above and we were on our merry way in writing. We had received her permission.
Now when I sit down to write I find often enough I have to give myself permission to write what I feel like writing. Danny and I knew that things like war and aliens were charged topics back there in fourth grade and that a lot of teachers would have said no even if Mrs. Walker was okay with it and even if it was what we really wanted to do. Now when I begin to write about something I sometimes hear the "no" in my head as I write. Sometimes it's the anticipated "no" of an edito or agent. Sometimes the "no" I think librarians or parents might have in store.
I feel this way because I know from experience this happens. I had a sexual joke in REBOUND that the first editor who was considering the book said would have to go. He said it was funny, but offensive. The female editor who eventually published the book loved it and left it in. REBOUND has been chosen by librarians for discussions and school visits only to be vetoed by administrators who don't want to touch on the subject of racism and reverse-discrimination. I wrote a YA novel within the context of the events of 9-11. I was told "no" from the very first time I pitched the idea. I am still getting "no" on that because of the context.
I would like those folks to say "yes," I really would, but I've found it doesn't matter so much in the big picture. I'm inclined sometimes to try to write to what is popular or will be acceptable, but I've had to tell myself to go ahead and write whatever I want and have fun. I've had to give myself permission to do that, even if there might be a "no" waiting on the other end. At least I've said yes.