Writing Exercise: Leave it to Chance



There is a song I wrote that is on my solo/acoustic album, Unsent Letters, called “Leave it to Chance.” When I was writing this song, I knew exactly what I wanted the song to be about, and I had lyric ideas. I didn’t know what chord progression I wanted to use though. I didn’t have a melody either. So I wrote down a bunch of major and minor chords and threw them in a hat. I pulled out three pieces of paper, and that became my chord progression, which helped me find a melody.

Sometimes you just get a little stuck, and you need something to help you get started. This is one of my favorite writing exercises.

1. Take three hats, bowls, or containers. One of them will be for characters, one of them will be for locations, one of them will be for possible conflicts.

2. Write down some characters on small pieces of paper. Here’s a list to get you started:
– a baker who hates toasters
– a female drug addict in her 70s
– a male wedding DJ
– someone who is transgendered
– a teenage boy who can’t drive
– a cat who has insomnia
– a divorced truck driver
– a 20-something guy who only uses rainwater
– a grandfather who lives alone
– a girl who wants to learn how to swallow swords

3. Write down some locations on small pieces of paper. Here’s a list to get you started.
– Nebraska
– London
– Florida
– Chicago
– Texas
– the moon
– a farm
– a high school gym
– prison
– suburbia

4. Write down some potential conflicts on small pieces of paper. Here’s a list to get you started.
– divorce/break up
– someone finds out they were adopted
– someone gets something stolen
– fighting over the last piece of pie
– a snow fight
– someone has to give up an addiction
– someone gets injured
– an incorrect rumor is going around about someone
– an important electronic breaks
– natural disaster
– an asteroid falls from the sky

5. Place all of your pieces of paper in the respective hats or bowls. Draw one character, one location, and one potential conflict. Write a short story, a poem, a short play, a short film, etc. that somehow incorporates all three.

This will force you to be creative. For example, if you get “a cat who has insomnia,” “Texas,” and “snow fight,” that could go so many different ways! (Someone please write that story. I want to read it!)


– only draw a piece of paper from one category and start your story there
– pick two or three characters and use all of them
– instead of character, location, and potential conflict, you could also use categories like title, a line of dialogue, length of the story, food item that must be incorporated, anything else you can think of!

Obviously, you can come up with an infinite amount of characters, locations, or potential conflicts. This can be a really fun game, and you might end up writing something you never would have written otherwise.

Feel free to post your stories here! I’d love to see what you come up with! Happy writing!

My Experience at YALLFest 2013


As an author of a young adult novel and a huge fan of the young adult genre in general, I was super excited about attending YALLFest, the Young Adult Book Festival in Charleston, SC, about five hours from me. (I live in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta, GA.) I was mainly excited about all of the panels, seeing Rainbow Rowell, Lauren Oliver, Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, discovering new authors, and getting my copy of Fangirl signed. (I would have been excited to see Veronica Roth, but the keynote address she gave sold out before I could get a ticket.) My mom is also a huge book nerd so she and I rented a car and geared up for the drive. (The rental car came with two free audio books on audible so we got Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan and Twinmakers by Sean Williams. We listened to a little bit of both while driving!)

We started out with the morning panel, “All the Feels”, featuring Rainbow Rowell, Rachel Cohn, Gayle Forman, Ellen Hopkins, David Levithan, and Stephanie Perkins. The hilarious Aaron Hartzler was moderating. They discussed the contemporary realistic YA they all wrote. They talked about how their books were often perceived as “sad” but they all felt they were full of hope and redemption. It reminded me of how most people think Morrissey/The Smiths lyrics are really sad, but I often see hope and redemption in them. Or how I think T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is actually a poem about connection as much as it is about isolation. I think this is why these types of books are often my favorites (i.e. The Perks of Being a Wallflower). It was a really cool panel.

My mom and I stayed in the Music Hall for the “After the End” panel about dystopian lit, featuring Lauren Oliver, Alexandra Bracken, Ally Condie, Marie Lu, Carrie Ryan, and Margaret Stohl with Mike Johnson moderating.They all joked about all of the cities they destroyed in their books and how destroying Los Angeles seemed to be the most popular choice for them. I really liked how Lauren Oliver talked about how she’s written something every day since she was 9 and how you are bound to get good at something if you do it every day for that long. But she was also very humble, talking about how she often deals with “writer’s block” by just writing anything, even if it’s bad. She was saying a lot of things I often say about writing, which made me smile.

When that panel ended, the sound guys played “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths. I just had to point that out because it was awesome. 🙂

Mom and I headed to what we discovered was the college hipster part of Charleston (I literally saw a really skinny dude in a hoodie, leaning outside of Urban Outfitters, listening to his iPhone…). We decided to get some cheap (but awesome!) Mexican food and a margarita at La Hacienda. Yum.

We then headed back to the American Theater (only after stopping for a DELICIOUS cupcake) for coffee talk with Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell only to discover it was completely full and we couldn’t get in. I was a little bummed about that, but we headed to the Music Hall and caught some of the “Brave New Dark” panel featuring Cinda Chima, Kami Garcia, Nancy Holder, Tahereh Mafi, Ransom Riggs, and Veronica Rossi with Lev Grossman moderating. I only saw about 10 or 15 minutes of that, though, before I decided to go get in the line for the Rainbow Rowell signing over at Blue Bicycle Books. And I’m glad I did!


The line was pretty long by the time I got there, and it got even longer. I ended up standing in line for over two hours to get my copy of Fangirl signed. (I took my mom’s copy to get signed so she could go enjoy the panel on Southern writers.) Waiting in line was actually really cool. It was incredible to see that many people so excited about books they were willing to stand in line for hours just to get them signed. I met some really nice people in line, and all of the volunteers and Blue Bicycle people were really nice about it, telling us not to worry and that we would definitely get our books signed. Margaret Stohl even came out and started signing things for people and taking pictures with them while we were waiting in line.

When I finally got to the front, Rainbow Rowell was super friendly. I told her how I was in the minority because I hadn’t read Eleanor & Park yet but that I really loved Fangirl. I told her how it reminded me of reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I asked her if people were writing Fangirl fan fiction yet and talked about how meta that would be. She laughed and said she had actually been writing about Simon Snow.


She signed my book with “You don’t DO magic. You ARE magic.” She signed my mom’s book with “The story doesn’t have to end just because someone says ‘The End.'” (I am paraphrasing.) Both quotes from Fangirl. My mom thought that was so cool and serendipitous because she had just been talking about how she didn’t want Fangirl to end.

By this point, the “YA-List in Hollywood 2013” panel was ending (Veronica Roth made a surprise appearance at that one, which my mom got to see) and people were lining up outside the music hall for the last event of the evening, the YA Smackdown. I met up with my mom and we got in line, luckily right at the spot where we could sit on the steps. We sat on the steps and my mom gave me the highlights of the two panels she saw while I was standing in line, saying they were both really cool, especially the Southern writer one where they had a dialect discussion, which my mom and I had just been talking about. When I saw Margaret Stohl coming around to literally high five everyone standing in line for the YA Smackdown, I decided she was totally awesome.

In the first half of the YA Smackdown, Tiger Beat, a band consisting of YA authors fronted by Libba Bray, performed. I thought this was amazing, especially because their first song was a cover of my FAVORITE Lou Reed/Velvet Underground song, “Sweet Jane,” which I had JUST been talking about and listening to with my mom that morning in the hotel. Not only was their cover an excellent version of the song, but the experience of seeing YA authors playing in a band was really meaningful to me, especially given my recent decision to take a step back from music to pursue writing. In that moment, I saw that just because I was pursuing writing didn’t mean that maybe one day I couldn’t be in a band again… maybe even playing at a book festival!

Their set was amazing, and they ended it with “Purple Rain,” one of my favorite songs and a song I have even covered in the past. (See above.) And when we were all holding up the glow sticks they gave us and waving them around, kind of like they all wave their hands in the air at the end of the movie, Purple Rain, I couldn’t help but laugh.

After Tiger Beat performed, they got most of the authors from the day onstage and played some hilarious improv games that ended with Adam Gidwitz and Gayle Forman getting a pie in the face. Haha.

The whole day was a blast. It really felt like a community of authors and book lovers and readers and literary enthusiasts. Everyone I met or interacted with was really nice. All of the volunteers and organizers of the festival were amazing. And it just made me feel really good to be around a bunch of writers and readers alike, celebrating young adult books, in a really great city like Charleston. I had a lot of fun with my mom, who definitely made me the book nerd I am today. I got to see a lot of my favorite YA authors, and I discovered a bunch of new authors and books that have made my “to read” list even longer. I will definitely be checking out books by Stephanie Perkins, Libba Bray, Carrie Ryan, David Levithan, Gayle Forman, Marie Lu, and Tahereh Mafi–to name a few–just as soon as I finish Twinmaker by Sean Williams (which I would call a “real page turner” except for the fact that I’m listening to it.)

I hope I get to attend in years to come, not only as a book enthusiast but as a YA author. I hope they expand the festival out to two or three days so that I can see more panels and get more books signed. (There was no way to see and do everything unfortunately.) And this festival was exactly what I needed to fuel the fire in my passion for storytelling, literature, and writing.

The Art of Being Rejected



Let’s face it. If you really put yourself out there as a writer (or any type of artist), you’re going to get rejected. If you put yourself out there a lot, you are going to get rejected a lot. I speak from personal experience.

I have submitted my poetry, my fiction, my plays, and screenplays for hundreds of publications, writing contests, opportunities for productions, etc. I have sent countless e-mails trying to book myself as a solo musician or to book my band. I have sent my albums and poetry books to bloggers for reviews. I have been to many auditions for plays and films. I have been subjected to a number of really harsh critiques in writing classes and workshops.

I have read some pretty great reviews of my work and I have read reviews that were pretty terrible. In one review of an EP of a band I used to be in, the reviewer failed to discuss my musical abilities or how my voice or lyrics added to the band, but he did say I looked like Glen Danzig (for real).  Once I had a staged reading of one of my plays where the crowd literally just bashed my play and my music (it was a musical) for thirty minutes afterwards during the talk back. I once played a solo acoustic gig to three people. I played another gig at a festival where I was on a tiny stage made out of plywood, not a single person stopped to listen to me, and not a single person clapped after any of my songs. When I was querying literary agents, I could always count on at least one rejection letter in my inbox basically every day.

So I know rejection and criticism.

There are two ways to handle rejection.

Like this:



Or like this:



Take a lesson from the Dude.

Some rejections are going to hurt worse than others. Some rejections will make you re-evaluate your whole artistic career. Some rejections will make you want to curl up in a ball on the kitchen floor, listen to The Smiths, eat cookie dough ice cream, and never leave the apartment again.

The true mark of an artist, though, is getting back up again and getting back out there. The vast majority of successful artists went through rejection after rejection and criticism after criticism. The Smashing Pumpkins were told repeatedly they needed a different lead singer because Billy Corgan’s voice wasn’t so good. Dustin Hoffman was rejected a number of times before he finally made it as an actor.  One publisher rejected George Orwell’s Animal Farm, saying, “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” There are a ton of examples like these.

There is nothing anyone could ever say to me that would make me stop writing, stop singing, stop writing songs, stop creating, stop sharing my art with others. And to all my brothers and sisters of rejection, I salute you. Keep on creating the work you love. Keep on putting it out there. Don’t stop auditioning or trying to book yourself or submitting your work to publishers because you’ve been rejected or criticized. All art is subjective. There are people out there who love your favorite artists, but there are people out there who hate your favorite artists. The work you are creating has a place, and there are people out there who will absolutely fall in love with it. You just have to find them.

Writing Exercises: Write Something Really Terrible


Photo credit

At a young playwright’s festival once, one of the mentors gave us an assignment. We were all supposed to write the absolute worst 5-minute play we could. We all came up with 5 pages of completely melodramatic crap. We broke all of the rules of playwriting we had been taught. Not only were these plays hilarious, but they definitely helped to take the pressure off and ease the tension.

This is a great exercise because as writers, we sometimes tend to take ourselves a little too seriously (particularly in academic circles). We can be so focused on appearing to be “great writers” for all of our peers that we get so uptight and end up stifling the uniqueness of our own voices, our own styles.

So I say write the worst thing you can think of. If you write fiction, write an awful short story. If you write poetry, write a horrible, cliche poem. If you write plays, write an over dramatic short play. See how good you can be at writing badly. This exercise is a lot of fun, and I guarantee you will make yourself laugh. You may even want to share your work with others.

It will loosen you up. It takes away all of the pressure because it’s supposed to be bad. But when you are finished, you’ll find that it may have just helped you have a better understanding of the “rules” you are breaking. Maybe you’ll have a better understanding of how to craft exposition if you write a scene with horribly unnatural exposition. Maybe you will have a better understanding of the importance of specific imagery if you write a cliche, sentimental poem with no imagery about how sad you are.

So go ahead! See how bad of a writer you can be. It might help you to be a better one.

National Novel Writing Month: Good Luck!



For many people, November is National Novel Writing Month. Hundreds of thousands of writers will scramble to finish the first draft of a novel in a month.  You can track your progress and post your daily work on their website, meet other writers, and get encouragement. I think it’s a great idea. I don’t usually formally participate, but I do make an attempt to work on whatever project I am working on every day in the month of November – a show of solidarity with my other fellow writers!

This year I will be working on revisions of The Muses and writing the first draft of the sequel. I will be posting about my daily progress over on Twitter.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? If so, good luck!!

My Journey with The Muses (So Far!)


Vincent and Izabella – Painted – September 2007 – photo by A.D. Gaspard

You’ll all be happy to know that I have successfully busted through my own writer’s block by doing a number of the things I had suggested in my previous busting through writer’s block post. And now I’m working on the still untitled sequel to The Muses. But I thought that I would write a blog about my journey with The Muses. It’s been epic so far, and the novel isn’t even published yet.


In 2006 and 2007, I wrote a play called Painted. The official synopsis of the play from my website says: In Los Angeles, California, the famous actor, Matthew Morris, lives with his sister, Amber Morris. Amber has been in the same room for ten years painting portraits of the muses she has created, Izabella and Vincent. Matthew brings over his friends Brandon Thompson, the beer-guzzling drummer of a famous pop-punk band, and a coke-sniffing stripper named Mercedes. When Brandon invites his lead singer, Ian Mason, over to Matthew’s, Ian sneaks into Amber’s room, and her world is completely shaken.

This play originally started by me following my obsession with a character who sort of came to me almost already intact. Vincent. He came out of a lot of things. He was inspired by a painter I met, T.S. Eliot, a moment in a production of Jekyll and Hyde that I saw, the remnants of another character I had unsuccessfully tried to write a novel about… In many ways, he had always been with me. And once I actually gave him this story, I became obsessed. Ironically, though, Painted is not really about Vincent. It’s more about Amber and her journey with Ian.

I had an incredible journey with Painted. It was basically my first “real” play. (I’m not counting those plays I used to write in elementary school, even though they did enjoy many productions in my living room and my driveway. Dear God, somewhere these are on video tape.) I had a staged reading at Kennesaw State University in June 2007, and then I produced and directed the play at The Art Place via the Kennesaw State University Underground Theatre and Film Movement with the help of some great college friends in September 2007. And when the lights came up on opening night, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Vincent Sticks Around

So time went on, and I wrote about other things. I mainly worked on other plays, poems, and songs. I went to grad school where I worked on a lot of different plays. I had a serious attempt at being a musician where I wrote many songs with many other musicians. But throughout all of that, I never forgot about Vincent. And I wanted to write more about him. I had many ideas for a Painted-inspired novel series. I even tried to start a fiction adaptation of Painted several times.

My idea of Vincent evolved and changed. He changed with the actors who I saw read for/perform him. He changed as I read other stories, and I drew on other characters. But I was always thinking about him. I’ve read interviews where Anne Rice talks about Lestat, and I felt the same way. Lestat came out of Interview with the Vampire where he wasn’t the main character, but then Rice devoted the next four novels in The Vampire Chronicles to him. That’s sort of what happened with me and Vincent.

The Young Adult Influence

So. I had been keeping Vincent in my head. Meanwhile, I started reading a ton of Young Adult books and really falling in love with that genre. And I kept getting all of these ideas for writing a young adult series because I loved getting so addicted to these different series and I imagined how much fun it would be to write one. But the only thing I could think about that I was so obsessed with that it would get me through a whole series was Vincent. And not just Vincent but the idea of the Muses. And inspiration. And art. Then I had an epiphany. What if I wrote a young adult novel about Vincent?! Brilliant, right?

I didn’t actually start working on The Muses, though, until September of 2012. And that came out of a really dark time for me. I was unemployed. I had just lost my sweet apartment and I had to move back in with my parents even though I was 27. I felt like I had failed in many ways. I had failed at music, I had failed at living on my own, I had failed at being an adult. What better time to totally lose myself in writing a young adult novel?

I know I’ve shared this before but here’s the synopsis: 16-year-old musician, Sylvia Baker, has always been able to see Muses—mysterious beings who give artists inspiration—though they seem to be invisible to everyone else. After a near suicide attempt, Sylvia manages to climb out of the darkness of her mind by exploring her own musical abilities with the help of Travis, inspirational guitarist and classmate, and Vincent, the alluring British Muse who becomes Sylvia’s obsession. As she travels further into the world of these immortal beings that influence art, she finds herself in the middle of an epic battle between the modern Earthly Muses and the Original Greek Muses—some of which want her life. 

Set in suburban Atlanta in present day, Sylvia’s story is a journey of self-discovery told through the lens of a teenage girl finding herself through music and love. This Twilight meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower novel includes thought-provoking themes such as the purpose of art, the negative effects of alcohol and drugs, and crippling depression all while remaining true to the teenage experience with tales of love triangles, high school chorus concerts, and anxiety over driving.

I used to go to Cool Beans and just sit there and write for hours and hours. It all came very fast. I finished my first draft in January. I sent the novel to my beta readers (you know, my mom and my friend, Amanda.) (Actually, I was sending chapters to Amanda before I had even finished the first draft, which kind of kept me going.) I started querying literary agents in March.  I began the long process of revising, trying to get a literary agent, revising again, reading tons of rejection letters, revising again, sending it out to more beta readers (thanks in particular to Sparkle and April who restored my faith in the story in a lot of ways), etc. etc. In August, I finally got a literary agent who is absolutely amazing and totally gets my novel 100%. And now we are both waiting for the reaction from editors/publishers.

Meanwhile, I have started working on the sequel. (I think it’s going to be a trilogy. Maybe even a four-book series. Who knows?) Because I am not very good at “just waiting.” I prefer writing the next thing while waiting.

But all this is to say that writing is a journey. I have found that every project that has ever meant anything to me (whether it’s a play or a novel or a book of poems) has had an entire journey. Sometimes you can get so focused on the final product that you forget to enjoy the journey. But when I look back on rehearsing Painted outside the English building at KSU (we couldn’t get rehearsal space anywhere else) or staying up all night to finish revisions on the second act or sitting outside of Cool Beans writing until they closed, those are the moments that I treasure the most.

Getting a Literary Agent: Five Helpful Tips


People ask me all of the time how I got a literary agent or whether or not I have any advice for them about trying to get a literary agent. I’ve come up with a few helpful hints for the process of getting a literary agent.

1. Write a good novel.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people want to skip right to all of the stuff with literary agents and the publishing industry and they don’t spend enough time on the writing/editing process. Before you send out a query letter, you want to make sure that you have written the best novel you can possibly write. Have people read your novel and give you feedback. Spend some time revising. If you have any writing professors or writing professionals who are willing to read your novel, send it their way. There are many professional writers/editors online who will read your book and give you detailed criticism for a nominal fee. All of this stuff is worth it. You don’t want to send anything out to agents until your book is representative of your best work.

Now, that is not to say that you won’t keep revising once you start the query letter process. I first started sending out my draft of The Muses in March of this year, and I didn’t get a literary agent until August. The draft changed many, many times throughout that process, but the draft I had in March was much more polished than the draft I had finished in January. So expect to spend most of your time on the writing process.

2. Do your research.

There are many ways to find literary agents. I used the Writer’s Market and querytracker.net. These are two great resources. They will show you a listing of all literary agents who represent your genre. So, for example, I put together a list of all of the literary agents that represented young adult fiction. Once I had my list, though, I spent a lot of time reading up on each agent to see whether or not my book would be a good fit for them. The Muses is a young adult fantasy with a touch of romance and a lot of music. So I wouldn’t have sent it to an agent who was looking for dystopian fiction, for example.

Many agents also have blogs, Twitter pages, and other social media. Check them out and see what they’re Tweeting about. You can also research the types of books they have represented in the past and see if any of those books have the same feel as your book. My rule of thumb, though, is to always query if you can’t find any of this information, and I’m glad that I did. (My literary agent doesn’t have a Twitter or a blog.)

3. Write a good query letter.

There are a lot of resources on how to write a good query letter. Basically, in a query letter, you want to explain who you are and what your book is about. The query letter is extremely important because the majority of agents don’t want to see any part of your book unless they like your query. Give them a reason to want to see more. There is a lot of debate about what makes a good query letter, and it’s incredibly subjective. The best thing to do is find successful query letters and see what worked for other writers. Then, you can decide how you want to write your query.

Here is the query letter that I used. This one got me 12 agents who wanted to see my manuscript, 3 agents who were interested in representing me, and eventually, a literary agent I was incredibly happy with:

Dear Agent Name:

My name is Sara Crawford, and I have written a young adult fantasy novel titled The Muses. The novel is a little over 94,000 words, and it is the first novel in a trilogy.

16-year-old musician, Sylvia Baker, has always been able to see Muses—mysterious beings who give artists inspiration—though they seem to be invisible to everyone else. After a near suicide attempt, Sylvia manages to climb out of the darkness of her mind by exploring her own musical abilities with the help of Travis, inspirational guitarist and classmate, and Vincent, the alluring British Muse who becomes Sylvia’s obsession. As she travels further into the world of these immortal beings that influence art, she finds herself in the middle of an epic battle between the modern Earthly Muses and the Original Greek Muses—some of which want her life.

Set in suburban Atlanta in present day, Sylvia’s story is a journey of self-discovery told through the lens of a teenage girl finding herself through music and love. This Twilight meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower novel includes thought-provoking themes such as the purpose of art, the negative effects of alcohol and drugs, and crippling depression all while remaining true to the teenage experience with tales of love triangles, high school chorus concerts, and anxiety over driving.

I have a BA in English from Kennesaw State University, an MFA in Creative Writing from University of New Orleans (emphasis in Playwriting), and I have previously been published in such publications as Ceremony and Illogical Muse. I also have two published books of poetry (via Virgogray Press and Lulu Press), two albums of music, many productions of plays I have written, and a number of other eclectic artistic experiences—including being voted 2010’s Best Songwriter in Atlanta in Creative Loafing and placing as a finalist in the 2011 Essential Theatre Playwriting Contest—that have given me a unique perspective to write such a novel about Muses and the artistic experience.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,

Sara Crawford

4. Be open to criticism and feedback.

Let’s say you get an agent who wants to see your first three chapters. So you send them, and then she comes back and says, “I like this, but I think you could lose the prologue.” (This happened to me.) Do not get offended. Do not be so attached to the way your manuscript currently is that you are not open to making changes. This is just good advice for any part of the writing process, but I found that some of the most helpful feedback I got for The Muses was from agents who later went on to reject the manuscript. Without some of those comments, it definitely wouldn’t be in the shape it’s in now, and I don’t think it would have landed me an agent.

5. Be patient and persistent.

Getting your book published is an extremely long process. You will get rejected. A lot. There will be agents who take FOREVER to read your work or to respond to you. Do not get discouraged. Keep your head up and query someone else while you are waiting. Do some revisions. Work on another book. Enjoy the process. I started writing The Muses over a year ago. I spent most of this year revising and trying to get an agent. And it will probably be at least another year–maybe two–before it’s published. If you don’t hear from an agent for two months, write them again. (I did this, and I got several people who said they were interested in my novel but had just gotten overwhelmed and hadn’t had a second to respond.) These people are busy and they have SO many e-mails that sometimes you may get lost. It’s okay to send them reminders.

The important thing, though, is to be determined. I queried nearly 200 agents. This certainly isn’t standard practice, but I basically queried every single agent in the United States of America who represents young adult fiction. And I got a lot of rejections. This business is very subjective, there are so many writers out there these days, and you have to have thick skin. But if you get a rejection. just have a laugh and send another query. Don’t give up.