The Stories and Ideas You Can’t Let Go

I don’t usually tell people this fact, particularly agents and editors because it tends to scare them off, but I have 80 completed manuscripts in my filing cabinets.

Some are short, some are long, they range across many genres from picture books to adult non-fiction. Some are early drafts, and some are submission ready. Out of the 80, there are probably only about 20 that will ever be submitted for publication.  These 20 are the manuscripts that might not be finished, might not be polished, but they are the ideas and characters I can’t let go.

The other 60 are what I call my practice manuscripts, the journey ones, the ones I wrote to develop my storytelling and writing skills. These are the manuscripts that helped shape my writing, but realistically the stories themselves are underdeveloped in terms of plot or character or their concepts might not be strong enough to carry them.

So how do you know that your story is worth hanging onto – that it’s worth pursuing? Do you just keep submitting until a publisher takes it up? Do you abandon it after the first rejection?

I have top five criteria by which I judge if a story is really worth hanging onto.

  1. Is the storyline memorable? Is it so clear in my head that when someone asks me what my story is about I can sum it up in a short paragraph?
  2. Has the character stuck in my head long after the manuscript draft is finished?
  3. Two years on am I still ‘in love’ with the characters and the concept?
  4. Have I received positive rejections for it like “I encourage you to send it out to other publishers as it has much to recommend it and other publishers may have more room on their list”?
  5. Am I so close to my main character that they feel like a loved family member so abandoning them would be too painful?

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverSometimes, with books like Letters to Leonardo (which took more than ten years from initial idea to publication),  writing and rewriting the manuscript feels like you’ve been wrestling a crocodile, but you simply can’t stop. Sometimes, a story sits so deep in your heart that you just feel it needs to be told.

Having said that, I don’t keep submitting a manuscript in the same form after it has had five or ten rejections. I look at the feedback I’ve had from editors or agents and based on their suggestions and what feels right for me, I decide on a new course of rewrites.

Sometimes I put the idea/story aside for a while and over time and from reading other books, I realise what’s missing from my own manuscript and why it hasn’t been taken up by a publisher yet.

Sometimes, even with published books it can be hard to let them go. You feel the need to go the extra mile to reach a new body of readers.

Sherryl Clark

Sherryl Clark

For example, Sherryl Clark’s YA novel Dying to Tell Me received excellent reviews after being published in US, but she was unable to find a publisher for it in Australia.

Sherryl decided to organise her own publication and distribution here. She bought the artwork for the US edition, translated the book from US to Australian English, had it edited and organised her own printing and distribution.

Dying to Tell Me is a story that Sherryl felt so passionate about that she decided to take the Australian publishing of it into her own hands. Dying to Tell Me is an extraordinary young adult novel, and I’ve reviewed it below:


Once I started reading Dying to Tell Me, I couldn’t put it down.

The main character Sasha hooked me in, made me care about her right from the start.

“I didn’t want to sit in the front seat of our car – that’s where Mum always sat – but Dad was pleading. 

“Please Sasha,” he said. His voice caught and he cleared his throat.  “We promised a new start.”

His face was so creased with sadness that I couldn’t say no.

UnknownSasha’s policeman dad has taken up a posting in the country and it’s a chance for all of them to make a new start.

But the supposedly quiet country town they have been sent to is far from quiet.  Art thefts, arson, murder and ghosts are compelling plot ingredients of this fast paced novel.

When Sasha moves to the country, the gift of second sight that she has been denying for so long resurfaces along with a whole new telepathic power.

Sherryl Clark is the author of more than fifty-five books and Dying to Tell Me is written with polish and the lyrical language that her readers have come to expect.

“Jacket, jeans, sweatshirts, undies – peeled off like I was a skinny orange.”

Sherryl uses imagery and internal dialogue to give us clear insight into her main character, Sasha.

An irritation grew in me like an itch I wanted to scrape raw with my fingernails.

The action in Dying to Tell me carries the reader along at a cracking pace, and Sasha’s little brother Nicky and Dad are also endearing characters.

There are so many twists and turns in this story to keep you guessing. Once you start this book you won’t want to put it down.

A town that doesn’t want her

A ghost that won’t leave her alone

Dreams that mean life or death

With issues of family, sibling relationships, resilience, survival and trust, Dying to Tell Me fits well into the Year 7 Australian curriculum and teacher’s notes are available here.

You can order Dying to Tell Me at your local bookshop or purchase here.

Do you have a manuscript you can’t abandon?  I’d love you to share your experiences and suggestions in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)



10 thoughts on “The Stories and Ideas You Can’t Let Go

  1. Love this post, Dee and you actually answered questions that I’ve had for a while. So thank you. Also it was great to read your review on Sherryl’s excellent novel.

  2. My fantasy middle Grade manuscript I can’t let go of! my character Molly is like my baby and I feel I know her every thought and she is just screaming ‘let me out into the big world.’ I plod along and look at it every now and then and change it around but I love the original concept of it. One day perhaps she’ll be out there otherwise I’ll keep her tucked away close to my heart until I re-write her adventure again. i have even started a book two so yes I find it hard to let go of something I am passionate about. Love your advise Dee!

  3. Writing is like that isn’t it, Anne?

    Sometimes it’s a really hard slog and we’re not even sure what keeps us going.

    I hope things get better for you:)


  4. Hard not to get side tracked or self sabotage or just simply coming to a dry spot. Teaches patience that’s for sure. I think thinking too much.

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