The Importance of Shades of Gray

I love this week’s theme on eponyms.

Today’s word, as quoted from Wordsmith’s site:

manichean. adjective: Of or relating to a dualistic view of the world, dividing things into either good or evil, light or dark, black or white, involving no shades of gray.

After Manes/Mani (216-276 CE), Persian founder of Manichaeism, an ancient religion espousing a doctrine of a struggle between good and evil.


I heard it or read it somewhere: writing is a solitary act, but it cannot be done in isolation. If you’re not a writer (and of manichean tendencies), you might think that sentence contradicts itself. Writing is, or it isn’t, a solitary act.

But, I find, in writing, there are no black and white, right or wrong answers most of the time.

Two writer’s whose blogs I frequent, Linda Cassidy and Cathryn Grant, both posted this week on the subject of genre descriptions and the struggle to find the right category for your novel. Linda posted a link to AgentQuery’s genre descriptions, and, though my novel is several rewrites away from being agent-ready, I could relate to the struggle of choosing a genre. AgentQuery starts out by comparing the job of classifying a novel to the question, “Where are you from?”

I’m from Wisconsin. Well, really I was born and raised in Texas. So, I’m from Texas. Right? I’ve lived in Wisconsin long enough, but my heart is still….

You get the point. It’s a tough question that only I know the answer to, and the answer isn’t one or the other. In the world of genre categories, nothing is clear-cut either. Genre descriptions overlap and interweave and can drive an author mad.

My struggles with my work-in-progress henge on my resistance to rewrites. I’ve been sitting on the premise that a rewrite must go from beginning to end and back again. After several encouraging comments from other writers on a recent post of mine, I thought, okay, I’ll break it down, piece by piece, and address those parts that don’t work. But until I read Linda’s and Cathryn’s posts, I stared blankly at the story and wondered, which parts don’t work?

What does all this have to do with queries and categories, you ask? Let go of the linear, and hear me out.

Linda’s and Cathryn’s posts, and AgentQuery’s descriptions, gave me pause and shed a new light my novel. I asked myself, in what genre would my story fit? I came up with an answer of what I don’t want, and then my mind flashed through several scenes in need of fixing, or deleting. That may be a minute part of the writing process for some authors, but, for me, the experience was like a jump-start.

In the last several months, I’ve connected with a number of great writers online, my own mini virtual salon. In this online community of writers, our experiences overlap. One writer’s struggle highlights my own, but in a different way. Even if I read others’ posts that describe steps and struggles in the publishing process that are well beyond my reach, I learn. When they comment on my posts, I grow in the same way as a writer who might be sitting in a cafe, sipping coffee with my colleagues, reading our work face to face. As a mother of two young children with little time to write – much less, time to get out for coffee, alone – I cherish these relations and their dialogue.


5 responses to “The Importance of Shades of Gray

  1. I agree, it’s wonderful the way a comment on someone else’s blog sparks a new way of thinking about my own work. And you’ve just done it for me!

    You said: I came up with an answer of what I don’t want, and then my mind flashed through several scenes in need of fixing, or deleting.

    Now my brain is buzzing. I see that this applies to why I’ve been struggling with my query letter. I’m trying to describe a different book than the one I’ve written!

    Long live the virtual writer’s salon!

  2. Isn’t reciprocity a fun word to say? 🙂

  3. Wow, Linda, that’s an amazing realization re your query describing a different book! Yes, long live the virtual salon, I’ll have to look at my query with that eye.

    Christi – I love your analogy for choosing a genre, it fits perfectly and it’s very amusing. And what great insights from the word of the day. 🙂 I’m glad you got a jump start, and when you put it aside (as I’m guessing you’ll have to) for NaNoWriMo, the new novel might spark things for the current one.

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