Todd Mitchell is an associate professor of creative writing at Colorado State University. He’s the author of six award-winning books, including The Last Panther (Penguin Random House), The Namer of Spirits (Owl Hollow Press), and Breakthrough: How to Overcome Doubt, Fear, and Resistance to Be Your Ultimate Creative Self (winner of the Nautilus Book Award).To learn more about Todd, or to book him for a school visit, author talk, or workshop, visit www.ToddMitchellBooks.com.
SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the idea originate?
Todd Mitchell: A few years ago, after my fourth novel came out with Penguin Random House, I drove myself to a nasty breakdown.
This ended up being a very good experience for me, although it didn’t feel that way at the time. Having a breakdown (my lucky break!) gave me an opportunity to reassess what creativity actually is, and to discover better ways to go about it.
Since then, I’ve spent years researching creativity and creative practices. The things I’ve learned have not only helped me become more resilient and creative, they’ve made my life much more enjoyable and fulfilling. I wrote “Breakthrough” to share with fellow writers and creators some of the life-changing insights and techniques that helped me.
SunLit: Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?
Mitchell: The excerpt I’ve selected is a chapter from the middle of the book. It incorporates research from a multiple reality study published in Science. I selected this chapter because the study provides a fascinating perspective on commercial success that some writers and creators might find liberating.
SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write?
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Mitchell: “Breakthrough” is the culmination of over five years of research into creative practices and ways to enhance creativity. The book includes a wide range of sources, from psychological and neurological research on creativity to insights from philosophical and nondual spiritual traditions.
For me, one of the initial influences who inspired the exploration into creative practices that led to this book was an existential therapist named Chris. I share a bit about him, and how he helped me, in the book.
SunLit: Once you began writing, did your subject take you in any unexpected directions?
Mitchell: Just about everything I learned about creativity that I shared in the book was unexpected. Honestly, I had no idea that, for nearly 25 years, I’d been going about creating things in a way that was ultimately destructive to myself and my creativity, until I set off on the journey that led to this book.
SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
Mitchell: This is my sixth published book, but it’s my first nonfiction book. I share a bit about myself, my struggles, and the failures I experienced in the book.
Where to find it
- Prospector: Search the combined catalogs of 23 Colorado libraries
- Libby: E-books and audio books
- NewPages Guide: List of Colorado independent bookstores
- Bookshop.org: Searchable database of bookstores nationwide
SunLit present new excerpts from some of the best Colorado authors that not only spin engaging narratives but also illuminate who we are as a community. Read more.
Although I’ve taught creative writing for over two decades, I didn’t fully realize how much courage it takes for writers of memoirs and personal essays to share some of the most difficult experiences they’ve had until I started revising this book for publication. Risking vulnerability on the page is more challenging than I expected.
SunLit: Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?
Mitchell: Although “Breakthrough” includes several pragmatic ways to enhance creativity, a few of the later chapters focus on dissolving the ego and egoic limitations to creativity. Before the book came out, I feared that a few of these chapters might trigger an ego backlash in some readers. But, as far as I know, that hasn’t happened.
Instead, I’ve been stunned by the positive reactions I’ve gotten from readers, including several writers I admire who I never imagined would read the book. A few readers have even shared with me that they’ve already read the book multiple times.
That said, if some of the later chapters don’t resonate with readers, that’s fine. I wanted to get to the root causes of what holds creativity back, and I know that not every creator will be into that.
SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
Mitchell: I strive to write every day, although some days I only get 10-15 minutes to write. Usually, I write in my basement, but it has a nice window where I can watch the squirrels when a sentence is reluctant to emerge.
SunLit: Tell us about your next project.
Mitchell: I’m working on a Young Adult contemporary fantasy hybrid novel right now (a book that uses art and text to tell the story). It’s unlike anything I’ve seen published before.
If readers want to know more about my books, as well as more about my squirrel obsession, I recommend visiting my website, www.ToddMitchellBooks.com. There folks can find tips on writing and publishing, information on my books and author visits to schools, and a sign up page for my very rare newsletter (which only comes out a couple times a year).