Let Me Limit You

Maybe you’ve been operating under the influence of certain beliefs, such as:

The sky’s the limit…

Creativity allows for endless possibilities…

Anything can happen…

Well, sorry, kids. I’m here to fence you in. Tie you down. To lower that ceiling over your head. You are on restriction and I don’t want to hear any whining. It’s for your own good.

Fact is, sometimes too many choices can be bad for creativity. It can lead us to easy and predictable. Limits–boundaries–restrictions–can actually open our brains to finding something new and utterly surprising.

In this fascinating Ted Talk, “Embrace the Shake” by artist Phil Hansen; he discusses how embracing a physical limitation (brought on by his art) led him to new levels of creative exploration and expression.

Henri Matisse was also plagued with health problems but he didn’t let it limit his art. His brilliant and vibrant collages were made from his bed. Cutting paper was something he could do in a prone position.

The rules and conventions–in other words, limits–of poetry is what makes a sonnet a sonnet and a different type of expression than a haiku. The framework is what leads to art.

We all have limitations in our creative work. We have limited skills and talents. Limited knowledge and experience. Limited time. Instead of being frustrated by these limitations, embrace them!

(And be glad your limits are not a matter of life or death–think about the creative restrictions put on NASA in bringing Apollo-13 safely back to Earth!)

Other ways to limit your writing:

  • SCHEDULE: Use time to inspire and re-set your brain. Set a ticking clock. Only write at midnight. Authors (and VCFA alums) Kelly Bennett and Cindy Faughnan are offering 7-minute poetry challenges each Friday. Sign-in and take part!
  • MATERIALS: When’s the last time you used pen and paper to work out a scene or story? What would you write if you had to use a crayon? Chalk? What if you were limited by space. The San Diego City Library is holding a short story contest where the entire story has to fit on a matchbook!
  • TOPICS: I heard author Sid Fleischman talk about his early days of writing. If I remember right, he had jars of characters, settings, problems; and each day he would pull out one of each and start writing. He let the random guide him. Story prompts are another way to be forced into writing about something specific.

As Phil Hansen says in the above mentioned talk, “We need to first be limited in order to be limitless.”

Sarah Tomp

Cross-posted at Through the Tollbooth


Do You Mind?

Today I’m writing the post I need to read and believe.

As we reach the end of year, and look back over the last twelve months, it’s natural to evaluate one’s progress. Or, perhaps, lack of progress.

I’ve worked on two novels this year. Despite my efforts, they both continue to be messy, untamed, flawed, frustrating, etc. etc. etc. It’s done a number on my confidence. It’s quite possible I don’t know how to fix them…


That word is fundamental to the psychology of growth. Carol Dweck, PhD, psychologist and professor at Standford explains the differences between a “Fixed Mindset” and a “Growth Mindset” in her book, MINDSET: THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS.

A FIXED MINDSET assumes I am who I am. There’s a defeatist attitude inherent to this kind of thinking. The surprising thing is the limits set once a certain level of success has been achieved. This kind of thinking leads to a desire to want to look smart. After all, if we did it (wrote and published a novel, for example) once, certainly we can do it again – more easily! 

In comparison, a GROWTH MINDSET assumes I can do better – this kind of thinking leads to a desire to learn.

A growth mindset embraces challenges, while a fixed one avoids them. When obstacles appear, a person with a fixed mindset is likely to give up while someone with a growth mindset will persist. This growth mindset sees effort and hard work as the path to mastery, while a fixed mindset may perceive it as pointless. Criticism prompts learning for a growth mindset while a fixed mindset is more likely to ignore feedback. People with a fixed mindset will see the success of peers as a threat, while a growth mindset sees these instances as inspiring and motivating.

Do you need a mindset-reset as much as I do? Let’s try these ideas… And please, share any tips you may have as well!


  1. Defeat doubt with YET.
    1. I can’t finish my novel…YET
    2. My novel isn’t working…YET
    3. I’m not smart enough to be a writer…YET
  2. Avoid trap of thinking never-always-every
    1. We can grow and change
    2. Each new work is an opportunity for surprise
    3. Writing is an organic process, never static
  3. Own the fear of failure
    1. Working is progress, regardless of output
    2. Struggle is a sign of growth
    3. Failure is proof of facing a challenge
  4. Visualize each step of growth
    1. Visualize big picture achievement – allow yourself to feel the success
    2. Break the process down into small, doable steps – visualize those, too
    3. (Remember to celebrate those steps)
  5. Journal for reflection 
    1. Keep track of process
    2. Expect ups and downs
    3. Revise goals and expectations
  6. Remember to play
    1. Find joy in the process, complete with struggle
    2. Explore along the way
    3. Even wrong paths can offer moments of beauty and inspiration

Here’s to a growth minded 2017 and onward!


Sarah Tomp

Let’s Get Physical

Maybe it’s my stage of life, or maybe it’s working in middle schools, or maybe it’s a matter of diversity, or maybe it’s something else entirely, but I’ve been thinking about bodies. (However, this particular post will stay G-rated, family friendly.)

pirate-7In my writing I’ve never been interested in descriptions of my characters’ physical beings. For me what matters and what I am most interested in is their inner workings of emotions and thoughts. The outside shell simply is a vessel to hold the stuff that’s interesting. And yet, that outer shell is what others react to. It’s our most reliable way read someone else’s emotions. Sometimes we get those reading wrong, but other times it’s a fairly accurate assessment.

We often make assumptions based on those physical forms – which is where things can get slippery. That’s where a lot of messages get mixed or misinterpreted.

pirate-6But we also make choices as to how we project our inner selves. Clothes, accessories, hair styles, all work together to create a visual signpost and introduction. Sometimes we have more control over these external clues than others. We can’t change our gender or race or body type, and sometimes we have to wear something we’d rather avoid (why hello, hospital gowns and fast-food uniforms!) – but other times we choose what people see first. (And yet… who is that masked man – or is it a woman? Superhero or bandit?)

The physical world of your character can tap into the physical experience of your reader. This is why sensory details add richness to our writing. Consider your character’s physical body and explore ways to make it more personal. Change is one way to explore and examine physicality.

  • Give your character a physical injury – temporary or permanent.
  • Have his/her weight change dramatically.
  • Put her/him in different kinds of weather.
  • Force him/her to wear something uncomfortable.

The physical body and circumstance can be a way to start a story, too. Get your own body involved and create an image to represent a character. One rough and simple physical brainstorming exercise utilizes doodling or sketching. Start with a simple circle – the head as a vessel to hold all the inner workings, then accessorize. Here I’ve gone with two basic articles – an eye patch, which conjures the idea of a pirate and a crown, which means royalty – and then mixed them a bit.








If you create your own physical images and cues of the external world – you might be surprised where your mind takes you. I think some of the most satisfying stories are the ones that start with the expected, then change it up! It can create more poignancy, humor, or intensity. Surprise and curiosity goes a long way in engaging a reader.

Let’s get physical!

~Sarah Tomp



(Cross-posted at Through the Tollbooth)

As someone whose life has always been governed by school schedules – first as a student and then an employee – summer is a big deal. It has its own sense of time and space. Life is a different in the summer months. When I was a child, my father spent each summer doing research. So, on the first day of our vacation from school, we packed up our car and headed to a remote lake in Maine. He’d work, and we’d spend three months swimming, exploring the woods, making things, alternating between getting bored and being thrilled and amazed.

This past school year has been particularly hectic and busy – I’ve been looking forward to summer vacation since about October. And wrapped up in that eager expectation, is my desire to have more time to write.

Now that I am in the final countdown for summer break (5 more days!); I’m starting to worry about the exact thing I’ve been anticipating: More time to write.

amazinghappyMy two projects are A) finish a novel and/or B) revise a novel

More and more, I’ve been feeling like I don’t know how to do either one.

But then, last weekend, at my daughter’s college graduation ceremony (yay!), the commencement speaker gave some brilliant bits of advice to the celebratory crowd.

I’m hanging tight to one particular pearl of wisdom: STAY IGNORANT: Expertise and creativity make poor roommates. 

When you have your MFA, and have a book published, and spend a lot of time teaching writing; it’s easy to feel like you know how to write. Or, that you should know how to write.

Fact is, I don’t know how to write and/or revise these novels. Not yet. But… apparently, we’re more creative when we’re lost and confused. Reassuring, right?

junkmanSo, instead of the big grandiose plans of strict daily word counts and milestone achievements to get me through the summer, I’m planning my summer playtime and explorations. I’m going back to my days of running wild outside combined with lazing about on the floor, reading and doodling. Going exploring. Trying to find more creativity and less expertise.

As Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”


  • Walk somewhere new and/or at a different time. Evenings walks on the beach are completely different from those at noon.
  • eyeballSit. Force yourself to stay in one spot for longer than you want, longer than you are comfortable. Somewhere picturesque and quiet: in the woods, by a water, on a bench in an art museum. Or not: by a dumpster, on a busy street corner, in a barren lot. Be aware of all your senses. But stay still. You might even squirm.
  • Visit a museum.
  • Wander through a fabric store. Soak up the different colors, patterns, textures.
  • Collect. Rocks, seashells, pine cones, toys, anything.
  • Make something. Try using craft supplies from your childhood: paste and tape and scissors and paint.
  • youareniceKeep a doodle journal. I’m looking forward to exploring some of the exercises outlined in SYLLABUS by Lynda Barry.
  • Eat alone at a restaurant. You can even talk to yourself if you like.
  • Challenge yourself physically. Climb a mountain, swim laps, dig a hole. Get tired.
  • Listen. To music, is one possibility. Or try something new: listen to a favorite movie without seeing the pictures. Blindfold yourself and listen to your neighborhood. It’s okay if you fall asleep. Sleep is part of creativity as well!

What your favorite ways to boost creativity?

~Sarah Tomp


YASH: Over and Out!


The oh so awesome Spring 2016 YASH has come to an end. 


Thanks to all the new visitors who stopped by and shared their thoughts on summer! I’ll be announcing the winner of my individual giveaway – for a copy of MY BEST EVERYTHING and an summer playlist making I-tunes gift card –  soon…


I’ve also decided to pick a few additional winners to received a copy of the book: Stay tuned!


Happy Reading, Hunters!







Sarah Tomp AuthorWelcome!

I’m so glad you’re here!

I’m SARAH TOMP, author of

MY BEST EVERYTHING… a love story steeped in moonshine.

Keep cruising along this hunt to find a summer playlist to accompany my story about fate and destiny… and working hard for what you want.

YASH TEAL TEAM SPRING 2016I’m part of the TEAL team, but there are 8 other teams! 9 in total! That’s a wonderful extravaganza of books to be won! (See below for the nitty-gritty how-to and rules for the amazing YASH contest) Go to the YA Scavenger Huntpage to find out all about the hunt.

Here on my site, I am featuring the lovely Lynne Matson and her soon to be released, NIL ON FIRE… which includes mysterious island adventures, danger, sacrifice and… oh my! Trust me, you NEED to read this series! 

Also, I’m including a contest to win a copy of MY BEST EVERYTHING and an I-tunes gift card so you can make your own summer playlist! 

For a chance to win (Each action adds an entry):

  1. COMMENT  below: What do you love BEST about summer?
  2. TWEET this contest and tag @swtomp
  3. Like me on Facebook!


 Matson_photoand now… I am oh so pleased to introduce 


A former lawyer, Lynne thinks writing books for teens is much more fun. She’s the author of the Nil series, a young-adult trilogy about a mysterious island where teens have one year to escape, or die. NIL was awarded a “Perfect 10” starred review from VOYA, and is currently a 2015-16 Florida Teens Read Award Finalist, an Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award Finalist for 2016-17, and Missouri Gateway Readers Award Finalist for 2016-17. Her books have been translated into several languages and are currently on numerous state reading lists. NIL and NIL UNLOCKED are out now; NIL ON FIRE releases May 31, 2016.

When she’s not writing books or reading them, you’ll find Lynne listening to music, going for a run, messing around with paint, or hanging out with her husband and their four boys . . . probably at the beach. Cookies are her kryptonite, especially Thin Mints.

Here’s where you can get to know her even better!

Website Twitter Facebook Goodreads Tumblr Instagram


Hi y’all! I’m SO excited to be a part of this Spring’s YASH! So many great books and sekrit content is hidden across the interwebs for y’all to find. 🙂 And, speaking of hidden content . . . guess what I’ve stashed for you?

NilOnFire-2I’m sharing the first chapter of my upcoming release, NIL ON FIRE!

As y’all may know, the Nil series is a trilogy about a mysterious island where teens have exactly one year to escape, or they die. I like to describe the series as a LOST, Survivor, Twilight Zone mash-up, plus feels and a painful amount of near-miss kisses. The trilogy begins with NIL, continues with NIL UNLOCKED, and in May, the trilogy ends with NIL ON FIRE.



Before I share the first chapter, here’s the synopsis of NIL ON FIRE:

Despite Rives and Skye’s attempt to destroy Nil, the island remains. And back in this world, Nil won’t let Skye go. Haunted by a darkness she can’t ignore, Skye wrestles with Nil nightmares that worsen by the day and threaten to tear her apart. As Skye fights to keep her mind intact, she realizes that to finally break free of Nil, she must end Nil’s vicious cycle once and for all–and she can’t do it alone.

Who will return to Nil, and in the end, who will survive? In this thrilling final installment of the Nil series, the stakes have never been higher: everyone’s fate hangs in the balance, including Nil’s own–and Nil will fight to the death. When the full force of the island is unleashed, Skye faces an impossible choice, a cruel one she’d never imagined she’d have to make. Soon one Nil truth becomes painfully clear: only one side can win.

Losing isn’t an option, but winning will cost Skye everything.

Awesome, right? (Of course, I’m totally biased, and unreliable. I love these characters more than I love Thin Mints, and if you know me, THAT’S SERIOUS.)  Ready for the first chapter?

Here you go! Enjoy!


Chapter 1


After Noon

Paulo blinked, slowly, his consciousness returning in crisp frames filled with color and scent and sound.

He stood alone on the black rock platform. The acrid smell of death filled the air, accompanied by the distant crackle of flames. Above him, the sun burned like smokeless fire, still high noon. But over the carving, the gate was gone. Skye was gone.

His chance to leave was gone.

Reality set in, stark and devastating.

I failed, he thought.

A cry ripped from his throat like the wail of an injured animal. He dropped to his hands and knees on the harsh black rock, landing so hard that pebbles raked his palms, drawing blood, but he was too consumed by his growing terror and overwhelming bewilderment to care. How had he missed the gate? He’d waved to Skye, grateful she’d made it, knowing he was last and that the timing felt right—the completion of a circle begun three months before, the end of a cycle begun years before he or Skye were ever born. Only he’d hesitated, for reasons that he couldn’t explain. For reasons he couldn’t remember.

He’d lost time, mysterious minutes stolen by an invisible entity.

And now he was alone on Nil.

An angry tear welled in his eye; he wiped it quickly, already pulling himself together, knowing he wasn’t truly alone. There were lions and hyenas and pumas on the island too, and he was very aware that he did not sit on top of Nil’s food chain. He coughed, then choked, tasting smoke and salt. The thick air billowing up from the meadow snapped him to attention like a hot slap to the face.

He needed to get away from the mountain. There was nothing for him here, not now.

Not for three more months, to be precise.

Paulo stood, and with one last look around the silent black platform, he stepped back. Then, even though there was no escape, he turned and began to run. Down the steps, past the fiery meadow.

Around him, the island burned.

The island let him go.

It would wait.

It was accustomed to waiting.

Once it had waited for centuries. Time wrapped the island like an invisible sheath, fluid and constant, both armor and weapon.

The island was weakened but not broken.

The male kept running, through smoke and flames and blood as the island settled in to watch. And to wait. And above all, to renew.

And so it began, again. Only this time, the island would not show weakness.

Or mercy.

That era was over.

 –End of Chapter One —

So there you go! I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek at NIL ON FIRE. The full novel hits the wild on May 31, 2016. Or, as I like to say…

The end begins on May 31.

Are you ready? Want to pre-order NIL ON FIRE? If you do, I will love you forever.:) I’m actually not kidding.



Whoa! NIL ON FIRE sounds utterly amazing! Be sure to get that pre-order in, STAT! 

And, hey! Be sure to check out my playlist for MY BEST EVERYTHING somewhere along the TEAL TEAM hunt – you’ll find 7 songs you should love and listen to! 



This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize–one lucky winner will receive one book from each author in my team! 

Go to the YA Scavenger Huntpage to find out all about the hunt.

You’ll notice that somewhere in this post, I’ve hidden my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the TEAL team, and then add them up!
Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.
Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by April 3, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.


I tried a new exercise with my writing class recently. They each wrote a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, showing character change – using only 3 lists. The lists could be seemingly mundane – shopping lists before, during and after a vacation – or more profound – lists of things I wish I could say or do. Any kind of list has the potential to connect with a reader, and make a story more interactive as it requires the reader to fill in the blanks.

I was delighted with the results! It loosened them up, and gave them the freedom to dig a little deeper, to reveal the underlying emotions. And, they were almost completely across the board, both poignant and funny. 

It makes me want to try it, too!

Lists within a story can be extremely powerful and effective. Because they are short, and non-narrative, they demand the reader’s attention in a different way. The white space around the list leaves room for the reader to add his/her own conclusions. When incorporated throughout a story, the evolution of these lists shows character shifts and change. 


  1. Focus
  2. Intensity
  3. Emotional impact
  4. Humor
  5. Voice


survival strategies of the almost brave1. SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE by (Fellow-Tollboother) Jen White

Billie, the main character of this middle grade novel – an emotionally powerful adventure story – keeps a notebook close by, at all times. She logs her observations about various living creatures, and the world in general. These lists and notes give us a peek into her inner turmoil – and even teach readers about the world. They’re a lovely mix of fact and heart. 

mayday by karen harrington2. MAYDAY by Karen Harrington

This middle grade novel, to be released in May, is the story of Wayne Kovoc, a survivor of a plane crash. He has always loved facts, and shares them with others as a kind of emotional shield. Having lost his voice in the accident, he is unable to share these facts – which leaves him on emotionally unsteady ground. Throughout the novel, he is determined to find his uncle’s memorial flag that disappeared in the crash. He creates Data Reports to track the plane crash investigation and recovery progress – which also, for the reader, tracks Wayne’s own recovery in a subtle and effective way. 

kissingtedcallahan_RGB3. KISSING TED CALLAHAN (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding

This hilarious YA novel is told in alternating viewpoints by Riley, and her best friend, Reid, as they document their victories and mishaps, in pursuit of romance and all that involves. The dual views – female and male – of the same topics are especially humorous and shows their differences, as well as their similarities. We also see their priorities and understandings shift and change as they gain experience – and real feelings – with their various kissing partners. 

weight of a human heart coverTHE WEIGHT OF A HUMAN HEART by Ryan O’Neill

Written for adults, this collection of short stories includes incredibly inventive storytelling. One story uses only lists, charts, and diagrams to reveal the progression of a relationship and marriage. Highly recommended to explore unusual writing conventions. And, with an powerful emotional punch. 

Even if your lists don’t make it into a final draft, I think the process of honing in what exactly you want to say, or what your character is feeling and doing at different parts of your story could add refreshing insights. Humor and voice, too! 

What other books use lists? Are you tempted to give it a try?

~Sarah Tomp

[Cross-posted at Through the Tollbooth]



I absolutely love this map of YA books that take place all over the United States – and not only because MY BEST EVERYTHING is included, representing Virginia! This wonderful image was created and posted by the Los Angeles Public Library .

Pretty gorgeous, eh?


Alabama – Looking for Alaska by John Green

Alaska – My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson

Arizona – Zero by Tom Leveen

Arkansas – Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

California – Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Colorado – Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

Connecticut – Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Delaware – The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

Florida – The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi

Georgia – Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Hawaii – Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Idaho – Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy

Illinois – Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Indiana – All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Iowa – Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Kansas – Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett

Kentucky – My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Louisiana – Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Maine – This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

Maryland – Now I’ll Tell You Everything by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Massachusetts – Conversion by Katherine Howe

Michigan – Caged Warrior by Alan Sitomer

Minnesota – Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian

Mississippi – Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

Missouri – Feral by Holly Schindler

Montana – The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth

Nebraska – Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

Nevada – Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

New Hampshire – Whippoorwill by Joseph Monninger

New Jersey – Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

New Mexico – Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz

New York – The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

North Carolina – No Place to Fall by Jaye Robin Brown

North Dakota – The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Ohio – Wonders of the Invisible World by Christopher Barzak

Oklahoma – The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

Oregon – This Side of Home by Renee Watson

Pennsylvania – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Rhode Island – Spellcaster by Claudia Gray

South Carolina – Beautiful Creatures by Margie Stohl and Kami Garcia

South Dakota – Loki’s Wolves by Kelley Armstrong

Tennessee – The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes

Texas – Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Utah – Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Vermont – Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Virginia – My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

Washington – The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

West Virginia – Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

Wisconsin – Silent Alarm by Jennifer Banash

Wyoming – Unearthly by Cynthia Hand





The ingredients for moonshine are ordinary. Innocent.

Corn. Sugar. Yeast. Heat and Time. 

They could be the makings for something simple and forgettable. Like corn bread, bland and boring without butter and honey.

But the same ingredients, thrown together in a particular way, lead to dangerous results.

You say it was all meant to be…

There’s a fine line between toxic and intoxicating.