The Music Inside You Never Dies: My journey as a musician and a singer 

This is the updated version of a post I initially posted in Find Creative Expression.

My first memory of a piece of art moving me is The Nutcracker. My mom took me to see it when I was five. Since then, I’ve known with my entire being that my purpose in this life is to be an artist. Unfortunately, I’ve had a hard time since then deciding what kind of artist I was going to be. I have been a singer, a dancer, an actress, a director, a playwright, a screenwriter, a spotlight operator, an author, a poet, a keyboardist, a guitarist, and a songwriter. 

Two of these things have been more consistent throughout my life, though: my love of music and my love of stories. Even when I was a ballet, tap, and jazz dancer as a kid, I always loved the music more than anything. I remember being in a school play of Little Red Riding Hood in fourth grade, and I played Red’s mother. I got to sing a solo, and that was the first time that I really thought that maybe I could actually be a singer and make some of the music I loved so much. 

In middle school, I was a dorky kid, a loner. But in 8th grade, I got to be in chorus. I shyly tried out for the solo at the beginning of “White Christmas,” and from that moment on, I had an identity. I was “the girl who could sing.” I thought I was headed down the Broadway/choral singing path, and I was even accepted into the performing arts magnet high school as a vocal major. But after about a month, I decided it wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to sing choral songs and Broadway songs; I wanted to write my own songs. So I went back to the high school where all my friends from middle school were, worked at Schlotzsky’s for months to save up to buy my first guitar, and started an all-girl band with my friends. We called ourselves Population 2 even though there were four of us. It didn’t really matter that we didn’t entirely know how to play our instruments or write songs. We figured it out together.

The four of us with our friend, Brandon, wearing a "Pop 2 Crew" t-shirt at our first gig

I remember watching Hole perform on a concert series they used to do on HBO with my bandmates, and we dreamed of the day that we could be on stage with our guitars, playing to thousands of people. And from about 2001 to 2013, that’s what I tried to do. Although I did continue to sing and perform in choral groups and musical theatre throughout the years, I mostly played solo singer/songwriter gigs and band gigs. After Population 2, I sang, played guitar, and played keyboard in the bands, Ruby, Novo Luna, Long Absent Friends, Sara Crawford and the Cult Following, and Pocket the Moon.

Ruby - I'm serious here, y'all. I'm in a graveyard.

I went through a lot of ups and downs with each of these bands, and each of these bands taught me something about who I was. I can remember so many great times playing with every single one of the people I played with. I remember the months Geoff, Brian, Adrian, and I tossed around ridiculous ideas for band names until we finally settled on Sara Crawford and the Cult Following. I remember Kylei, Michael, and I driving through ice and snow to play a Long Absent Friends acoustic show at Red Light Cafe. I remember playing at a gym with Novo Luna where we were followed by a belly dancer. I remember all of the conversations on porches during breaks at band practice. I remember all of the moments in each band where we communicated with each other without saying anything. You look at each other, and you just psychically know to play the last chorus or to go into the bridge or to switch to a G chord. I remember all of the songs we covered. To this day, any time any song I ever covered with any band comes on, I have to tell someone, “hey, I used to cover this song!”

Novo Luna playing at a pizza place that I'm pretty sure no longer exists

During these years, I got to play so many great local Atlanta venues. Smith’s Olde Bar, The Earl, The Star Bar, The Drunken Unicorn, The Five Spot, Lenny’s. I got to release albums and EPs. I got to play in Nashville, Tennessee and Augusta, Georgia. I got to play a tequila bar in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and an open mic night at a bar in Edinburgh called Lebowski’s after I flew my guitar all the way to Scotland. I was voted Best Local Songwriter in the Best of Atlanta issue of Creative Loafing into 2010.

Long Absent Friends - the shortest-lived of all my bands. We really did become long-absent friends.

There were also a lot of disappointments. There were the shows I played for three people. There was the show I played on a tiny plywood stage at a festival in Piedmont Park where literally not one person listened to my set. There were dramatic arguments and encounters that only sensitive musicians can have with each other. There were all of the misogynistic assholes only female musicians have to deal with. And every time a band I was in broke up, it felt like a romantic break up. (And sometimes, they literally were romantic breakups.) And every night on stage, there was a vulnerable feeling that only comes with singing your heart out. Sometimes it was magical. Sometimes it was heartbreaking.

Sara Crawford and the Cult Following

Pocket the Moon - and look there's an actual moon behind us, y'all!

And then there was Pocket the Moon. Geoff Goodwin had a real talent for taking these raw songs I wrote and making them into something special. He really understood what I was trying to do musically, and he helped me achieve the exact sound I was going for. To this day, our self-titled album is still one of my proudest artistic accomplishments, and I know I wouldn’t be anywhere near as proud of it if he hadn’t arranged, co-written, played, recorded, and mixed it. (It's so hard to believe that album will be ten years old in June!)

And for a moment there, I really thought we could make it. I finally could see myself on that stage we used to dream about when we watched Courtney Love covered in glitter, her guitar attached to her like another limb on her body. 

We even went on a little tour of sorts, piling an entire drum kit, a keyboard, two guitars, a bass, and maybe a PA (I can’t remember, but it was a lot) into Geoff’s Honda and playing actual gigs in Asheville, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Charleston, South Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; and open mic nights in as many cities as we could along the way. 

I remember so many nights when we had a gig, during the guitar solo of “Rooftops,”–a song about the healing power of art and coming together with other artists–I would just close my eyes, listen to the ethereal sounds of Geoff’s guitar solo that he used the electronic bow on, strum my simple A and E chords on my acoustic, and just feel like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

One of the best things about my time in Pocket the Moon, though, was how involved I got in the Atlanta music scene. I met so many amazing musicians that became good friends. We would all go see each other’s bands and support each other. I met touring musicians from all over. I traded CDs with so many people that to this day, there are still CDs scattered all over my house. 

But eventually, we stopped playing, too. I played a couple more solo gigs in 2013, and on my 29th birthday in 2014, I played what I called “my last gig in that context” at Smith’s Olde Bar. I had Geoff and my friend, Noah, back me up on bass and drums, and I booked my friends, singer/songwriter, Juliana Finch, and indie band, Finster, to play with me. 

At the end of my set, I covered an obscure Spiritualized song and got Geoff, Noah, Juliana, and Finster to sing the last chorus with me. “So long you pretty thing, God save your little soul/The music that you played so hard ain’t on your radio/And all your dreams and diamond rings and all that rock and roll can bring you/Sail on, so long.” I remember singing that verse and looking over at all of them and feeling so grateful for my time in the Atlanta music scene. And that obscure Spiritualized song that no one knew was a way for me to say goodbye.

And that was it. I thought I was done with singing, with being a musician, with being in bands. I sang a little bit off and on at church, but I even stopped that eventually. And my keyboard and guitar collected dust in my room. 

There was one day I was driving with my music on shuffle. “Tangled” by Pocket the Moon came on, and I heard myself singing, “you’ll miss them when they’re gone.” And then I started the album over, listened to the entire thing, drove around Marietta, and had one of the biggest emotional breakdowns I’ve ever had. I was mourning for a part of me I thought I had lost. I was mourning for a dream I thought I lost. (This moment later became the inspiration for a scene I wrote in the book, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.) 

I didn’t think I could do it anymore. I didn’t think I would ever be able to play on that stage like Courtney Love so I didn’t see the point in trying. I thought I was getting too old to be in bands. All of my friends who used to come to my gigs were moving to other states, getting married, having kids, growing up. I didn’t think anyone would come see me sing anyway. And so I stopped singing. 

I did still sing off and on at my church, but then life got complicated. I got married to someone with severe mental health and addiction issues, and during those years, I was just trying to get through each day. Eventually, I left him and after staying with my parents for the summer, I moved into my own apartment. 

Shortly after I moved in, I became obsessed with the song "Pink Rabbits" by The National. One day I just decided to learn how to play it on guitar. And eventually, I expanded my daily guitar playing to include some of my old songs. 

And then the pandemic hit. And we all had to readjust. 

One of the things I started doing was writing little songs for my friends for their birthdays on my ukulele. As silly as they were, they made me want to keep writing songs. So in July of last year, I wrote my first song in seven years. 

I never would have tried to play a gig at this point, but with everyone in quarantine, tons of musicians were doing live streams. I decided to play a set in my living room and live stream it. 

Most of the people who watched were my friends and family, and I was definitely rusty, but I had a blast. And for possibly the first time, I wasn't playing my music with the idea of achieving some goal--"making it" as a musician--but I was just playing my songs for the sheer joy of it. I was just expressing myself, expecting nothing in return. 

I was re-reading the first two books in my trilogy, The Muse Chronicles recently, and I realized that this trilogy is a bit of a love letter to music and musicians. In the acknowledgments of We Own the Sky, I wrote, “Thank you to all the musicians I have played with over the years, especially Geoff Goodwin, the other half of my former indie band, Pocket the Moon. Thank you to all of the Atlanta musicians who inspire me. I would never have been able to write this book if I hadn’t had all the experiences playing music with you all.” 

And I realized there has been a reason for all of it, for every single up and down, for every single song I wrote, every single show I played, every single musician I played with or met or saw, even if I only interacted with them for one moment, one song. Because these musicians have been my inspiration, my Muses. And maybe it hasn’t been that I ended up singing on a stage with a band like I thought I would, and maybe I did stop singing for a time, but I never stopped creating. And even though I wasn’t singing, the music was coming out in other ways–in stories or in plays or even in the way I worked with other writers or artists. Sometimes even in the way I write blog posts on here, I think. 

I've barely picked up my guitar since my living room set last August, but I’ve realized something important. Music is a part of me as much as breathing is or walking. And whether I’m singing at church, writing a story or play about music, or maybe eventually even venturing into an open mic night again, I can’t give singing up. And if you’re an artist or a creative person, you can’t give up your art either. The music inside you never dies. And it doesn’t matter if your audience is a thousand people, a hundred people, one person, or two cats, if there are songs inside of you, you have to sing them. If there are stories inside of you, you have to write them. If there are paintings inside of you, you have to paint them. 

Because if art or creation is part of who you are–whether it’s singing karaoke or coloring in an adult coloring book or taking an improv class or writing poetry–you owe it to yourself and to the world to create. You won’t feel entirely right until you do.

Poetry Books Released Today! 

My poetry books are out today!

You can download Coiled and Swallowed, Driving Downtown to the Show, Slip Away, or a bundle of all three ebooks on all major retailers. (They may not be up on Apple yet but should be by the end of the day.) You can also download any of these here on the website. 

The print versions should also be available by the end of the week, and stay tuned for information about the audio versions!

Also, I will be doing a brief reading mainly featuring poems from my new collection, Slip Away, tonight at 7:00 PM EST on my Facebook page. I hope to see you there!

Coiled and Swallowed, Driving Downtown to the Show, and Slip Away 

I'd like to announce that on March 23, 2021, I will be releasing Slip Away, my new book of poems.

At the same time, I will also be re-releasing my book of poems, Coiled and Swallowed (2010) as well as my book of poems, Driving Downtown to the Show (2012) with these new covers.

All three books will be available in ebook and print on all book retailers. I will also be recording audiobooks though those won't come out until later this year.

A few weeks ago, I had to put my cat, Frank, to sleep. I was devastated, and the only thing that helped was writing poetry. The idea for Slip Away was born. It is a collection of poems about loss. Actual loss through death, yes, but also the loss of relationships, the loss of childhood, the loss of dreams. 

I've been writing like crazy since then, and now I have a first draft of the entire collection. 

I know what you're thinking. "Wow, that sounds depressing, Sara." But actually, if you stick with me until the end of the collection, it has an uplifting message by the end. 

These poems are all very personal to me, and sharing them is giving everyone a peek into my soul, more so than my fiction or plays have.

For those of you wondering what's going on with my vampire trilogy, I've decided to shelf Until the Night Falls for the time being. I will definitely return to the trilogy at a later date, but my heart just isn't in it right now. Right now is not the time for me to write about vampires. 

The ebook versions of my poetry books will all be $1.99, or there will be a $2.99 bundle with all three books. (The print versions will be $4.99.) 

I am so excited to share these poems--both the old and the new--with you.

Thank you for making my 2020 better 

Well, it's that time again. The last day of the year. 

In normal times, I love New Year's Eve. I love reflecting back over the previous year and looking forward to the new one. But if 2020 was anything, it was definitely not normal. I'm cautiously optimistic about 2021: hoping for live performances to return, hoping to be able to hang out with my friends and family normally again, hoping to get a lot of writing done. 

I usually set reading and writing goals. I usually try to read 50 books a year and I set some ambitious goal about writing 300 words a day or publishing four books. I'm not doing that this year. I was going to set my Goodreads Reading Challenge to 25 books and just put it out there that I will finish my Shadow Vampires trilogy in 2021. Anything above that will be a bonus. 

2020 has definitely been difficult on a national (or even global) scale. There's been a lot of struggle. The pandemic, amplifying the fight for racial justice, the election. My heart goes out to anyone who has been sick or lost a loved one. 

At the same time, artistically and creatively, it was a pretty good year for me. I started the Find Creative Expression podcast, which I actually really enjoy doing. I have had so much fun having conversations about art and creativity with artists of all kinds. I started playing music again. I wrote tons of "joke songs" and even a real song, and I played an acoustic set that I live streamed from my living room. I "went wide" with my indie books--making them available on book retailers like Apple, Barnes and Noble, and Google Play. I had a Bookbub Featured Deal, which led to a lot more readers of We Own the Sky and The Muse Chronicles Trilogy. I had my first book traditionally published with Parliament House Press, and I had my first audiobook. I quit my day job and started freelancing full-time. 

Everything I was actually able to accomplish was due to your support. Whether you are a friend, family member, reader, podcast listener, or collaborator, thank you so much. Without you, I don't know that I would have made it through the year. Thank you so much for reading my work, for listening to my podcasts, for supporting my return to music, for every comment or like or share, for every review, for all of your support. It means the world to me. 

And so I look forward to 2021. But I don't have any expectations. I don't know what's going to happen this year. I don't know what it will look like. But I do know your support will continue to mean everything to me.

There is no right way to be a writer 

Well, it's the last day of November, which means lots of people are celebrating winning National Novel Writing Month - writing 50,000 words in 30 days. To all of those writers, I'd like to say congratulations!

I started out the month working on NaNoWriMo, but then I was so distracted by the election, I didn't get much done. I also committed to more freelance work than I actually should have and had to spend a lot of time doing that. And then I got to the point where I was desperately trying to finish my novel, Until the Night Falls, the sequel to Into the Shadows, my YA vampire paranormal romance. Revising everything I had already written became more important than writing and tracking new words, and I had the novel up for pre-order to be released on 12/29/2020. So I needed to send it to my editor, revise based on her feedback, and then have it proofread all by Christmas. So I ironically had to quit NaNoWriMo to finish my novel.

I spent most of the weekend trying to shape everything I had written into a somewhat cohesive novel, but at some point on Saturday, I realized it wasn't working, and I had to start completely over with a new document. (This isn't quite as dramatic as it sounds as I end up copy/pasting a lot of stuff I've already written but still.) I really wanted to avoid canceling my pre-order and postponing the release of the book as usually if you do that, Amazon won't let you use the pre-order feature for one year. It also felt like failing for me somehow. 

That got me thinking. Why did it feel like a failure? Was it because I had been comparing myself to indie writers who release five or ten or even twelve novels in a year? Was it because I was getting emails from writing coaches and successful authors talking about everything you HAVE to do to be a successful writer?

All throughout my studies of creative writing, I have heard so many "rules." Write every day. Don't start a novel with dialogue. Don't have a prologue. You have to create an outline first and plan everything out. But I have discovered that these rules are crap.    

Don't get me wrong, there are definitely rules for writing - the structure of storytelling, how to develop characters, how to show and not tell, etc. - just as there are for every art form. But every rule in writing can be broken. Sure, it means a lot more when you break the rules if you have a good understanding of them first, but when it comes to process, there are no rules. 

Maybe I'm just never going to be like those indie authors who write ten books a year. Maybe some years, I will write five books, and some years, I will write none. Maybe I go through phases where I write every day, and then I go weeks without writing. (Well, creative writing. I absolutely do write something every day - whether it's a journal entry or web content about metal roofing equipment or a blog post about writing process.) 

Maybe it's okay that I will have four or five different drafts before I even figure out the shape of the entire plot. Maybe it's okay that I always start with something that won't end up in the final version. Maybe that's just my process. 

As it turns out, Amazon has temporarily suspended the rules about canceling pre-orders so I won't even suffer any consequences for canceling my pre-order, except of course the refunds Amazon will give to the people who have already ordered the book. And it has been so long since the first book came out (February 2019) that a few more months won't make a difference I think. I still plan to do some promotions with Into the Shadows right before I release Until the Night Falls that will hopefully get readers excited, but I was going to do that anyway. 

So I just wanted to say to all the writers -- whether you won NaNoWriMo or didn't finish or didn't even do it at all this year -- whether you write every day or sometimes go entire months or even years without writing -- whether you are someone who flies by the seat of your pants and discovers the plot as you write or someone who meticulously plans and outlines beforehand -- whether you need silence to write or you have to write to music or the noise of crowds chattering (well, not during a pandemic, but in normal times) -- there is no right way to be a writer. Whatever works for you is what works for you.

Does that mean you should never try anything different or try to use a different writing process? No. Does that mean your process won't evolve and change? Of course not. But you also first need to accept where you are. Cut yourself some slack. Don't try to fit into someone else's box. Someone else's process is entirely theirs, and every writer is different. 

Sometimes, life is going to get in the way of writing, too. So have some self-compassion, and give yourself permission to be the kind of writer you are. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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