Recently, I've been feeling somewhat scattered with my ideas and focus. I don't mean with my new Dr. Vanessa Marwood crime series. That is one area of true clarity for me. But in other parts of my writing life, it sometimes feels a bit... messy. When I was trying to tidy up my mind, I came across the 'Top 5 CliftonStrengths' assessment. For those who aren't aware, CliftonStrengths is a psychological tool developed by Gallup. It's designed to uncover your unique talents through a series of questions, culminating in a profile that identifies your top five 'signature themes' of talent. Think of it as a compass pointing towards your natural strengths, empowering you to navigate your personal and professional life with greater finesse. This isn't exactly new in the realm of writing. Many authors use these kinds of tools to understand themselves, and their characters, too. There are even courses offered that help authors utilise these strengths to become a better author. For example, Becca Syme offers an excellent course on this area. But courses like this can cost hundreds, whereas a 'Top 5 CliftonStrengths' assessment is just £20. It involves filling out a pretty comprehensive online questionnaire then you get your top five traits. Seriously, the results for me really shone a spotlight on the inner workings of my creative process. Only problem is, the report won't be specific to your author life. This is where courses like Becca Symes' Strengths For Writers 101 comes in. As I've worked with so many authors and been in the publishing business a while, I was able to sort of translate the traits and apply it to my writing life. Aaaaaand, because I have an Input trait, which means I like to curate and share content, I did the same for all 34 traits for you guys.
This has resulted in a guide for any authors that allows you to, once you know your five CliftonStrengths, dive in to see some advice tailored to those top strengths and very specific to your writing life. I think this can be super useful for us as we head into 2024. Members of this website can access is via the button below, or just sign up up at savvywriters.co.uk/sign-up (remember, if you don't know your top 5 traits already, you'll need to head over to CliftonStrengths to get the £20 assessment before being able to use the guide properly).
So, how has this helped me? Let's explore it via the five CliftonStrengths I possess:
Strength One: Activator So it turns out I'm the kind of person who can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. I want to do things now, rather than simply talk about them.
Yep. That's definitely me. It's the trait that helped me set up the Savvy Writers' Snug on Facebook, a group I'm so proud of. That led to the Savvy Writers brand too. It's what helped me become a published author in the first place, too. I wanted to write. I wanted an agent. I wanted to be published. I didn't just think about it. I made it happen.
But there are downsides, too. Often, I find myself enthralled with a new side hustle or project. In a whirlwind of creation, I’ve birthed entire novels and half-written others, juggling them like a circus act. However, as that initial enthusiasm dwindles, I tend to abandon these pursuits, leaving them unfinished. This cycle of engaging passionately with something new, only to let it go as the initial spark fades, is super frustrating. It leaves me with a nagging feeling that I didn't utilise my time as effectively as I could have. Recent example: I've been really enjoying reading romantasy lately (for example, Sarah J Maas). I saw how successful this genre was becoming and thought 'hell, I can write a romantasy!'. So I set aside a day a week and any evening / weekend time to give it a go. That's fine, it's good to experiment with genres. Problem is (and this is where my activator trait comes in), I was so damn sure I'd finish the novel, I put the first book up for pre-order. But then that initial enthusiasm waned, and I ended up having to cancel the pre-order.
Learning more about the activator quality made me realise how many times Ive done similar in the past. Sometimes, this desire to do something rather than just talk about it works out brilliantly. But other times, running before I can walk can end up causing issues, meaning I let people down. In this case, the small number of people who pre-ordered the novel! What I should have done was enjoy playing, but don't 'activate' it until I'm sure it's a long-term thing. I may come back to the idea again one day. But I won't be putting it up for pre-order unless I've written the whole damn thing!
Learning for 2024: Embrace the fun in writing, but don't 'activate' it until I'm sure it's something I want to commit to. Reflect more. Do not run in headfirst.
Strength Two: Strategic
Having a 'Strategic' trait means I can combine both the writing and business side of being an author. I've always known this and like to bang on about it to other authors, too. It's been particularly useful when it comes to pivoting. When things get tough, I'm able to step back and strategically think about how to change direction to improve the situation. It also means I'm the kind of person who is always scanning the horizon for the next big thing, from genre trends to technological leaps. It explains my interest in AI and also what led me to creating the Savvy Writers’ Snug: I scanned the horizon and realised there was nothing really out there tailored towards published authors. It's also what made me move into the psychological thriller genre reasonably early on, too.
But it can be a blind spot, too. I have a tendency to become obsessed with trends, and get exhausted trying to keep up with them, too. It also makes me over-analyse whether am idea I adore will be commericial enough if it isn't a brand new trend, like UpLit or, yeah, romantasy. Example: Though I was completely drawn to the Dr. Vanessa Marwood idea, my 'strategic mind' had doubts. I worried dark crime was passé. This fear even made me sit on the idea for months, despite being desperate to write it. But a small comment from a fellow author made me realise that some genres, like a fine wine, only get better with time.
Now I know more about this trait, I understand that while I should absolutely take notice of my trend-spotting instincts, it's important I don't ignore evergreen ideas, and that includes my backlist. I've written over ten books! Those books aren't just a source of pride, they're a source of income. I still get royalties each month from these, and new opportunities, too. Strategically, I now understand just because something isn't new and shiny, it doesn't mean it should be ignored.
Learning for 2024: I will always be trend-spotting and horizon-scanning. But my priorities must be the timeless and the enduring that actually bring in the most money for me. So I will be really focusing on republishing some of my backlist after buying the rights back and doubling down with my new crime series.
Third Strength: Input
My input trait means I have a strong desire to collect and archive. It's true, I love to accumulate information and ideas. I love to read. I love to learn. The publishing industry gives me so much opportunity to learn. I channel what I learn into The Savvy Writers' Snug, this blog and any opinions I put out into the publishing world, whether that be on social media or via articles in publications like The Bookseller.
It's where my 'input' strengths some to the fore. These platforms are more than just side ventures; they are integral to my professional identity. Learning about this trait of mine has made me realise even more how essential it is that I continue to nurture these spaces, and continue to invest in an author community that grows with me. But it has also taught me that I sometimes have a tendency to explore areas that I don't have an interest in if I feel it will benefit others authors. So I need to be more clever about the topics I choose and the information I curate.
Learning for 2024: I will be a lot more strategic about the content I curate going forward, so the research itself benefits me just as much as the authors who read it. The time this frees up will allow me to offer even more value-added content to a community I love.
Fourth Strength: Achiever
I'm often told by other authors 'I don't know how you fit it all in, Tracy'. Well, guys, I'm an 'Achiever'. Apparently, this means I have a 'great deal of stamina', which will make my friends and family laugh as they're so used to seeing me lounge about on the sofa and take frequent naps. But as I always say to my husband, I may be physically lazy (!) but I am always on the go mentally. This is where the stamina is, in my mind. It just never stops. And learning about this trait shows that I take immense satisfaction in my mind being kept busy and productive. In fact, I get depressed if I'm not. So this trait can really help propel me through bursts of intense productivity.
But–you knew there was a but coming–deep diving this trait has also taught me I reallllllly need to learn how to curb my enthusiasm, whether that be ensuring I don't say 'yes' to every new idea that pops into my head, to stopping to actually celebrate successes, rather than jumping into the Next Big Idea. Learning about this trait also helped me reflect on why something has been occupying my mind this year: the feeling I'm not 'achieving' anything. I'm writing, yes, but I don't have a book out this year, something I haven't had to deal with in years. So despite knowing the writing itself is a mega achievement, it's hard wrapping my head around not being published.
Digging even deeper, I realised this might be why I went through a flurry of pitching articles to newspapers and magazines. I needed to see myself published in some way, some how, beyond this blog. While I was commissioned for a few, the time I spent pitching for articles then writing the small percentage I was commissioned for as a result didn't justify the financial pay back. In fact, an area that has been giving me more financial security and pure joy has been the reading and moderating work I've been doing for Curtis Brown Creative. Exploring the needs that come with this Achiever trait led to me drilling down into financial and emotional rewards, and taught me that I've been overtipping the balance towards article pitching. Learning for 2024: Continue to enjoy my reading work, and also use the time I'd spend pitching articles to curating content for authors. General public information is where my novels come in!
Fifth Strength: Maximizer As someone with the Maximizer strength, I've always tried my best to turn something good into something great. This trait has been a cornerstone in my research process in particular, often leading me to uncover gems of information that enrich my writing, the information I share with other authors and provide depth to my characters and settings.
However, this strength also comes with its own set of challenges. For instance, I've noticed a tendency to get lost in research, diving deep into topics that fascinate me. While this can provide rich detail and authenticity to my work, it can also lead to spending disproportionate amounts of time on research, sometimes at the expense of actual writing.
A recent example: While working on my Dr. Vanessa Marwood series, I delved into forensic entomology with such intensity that I found myself veering off into related but tangential fields like forensic pathology and criminal psychology. Fascinating, yes, but not always directly applicable to the task at hand. In essence, it’s about finding that sweet spot where my Maximizer trait contributes to elevating the quality of my work, without leading me down the rabbit hole of endless research. This balance is crucial for maintaining productivity and ensuring that my love for detailed exploration serves my writing, rather than distracts from it.
Learning for 2024: To harness this Maximizer strength more effectively in 2024, I'm learning to set clear boundaries for my research. Allocating specific time slots and focusing on directly relevant material helps keep my research productive without overextending into areas that, while interesting, might not serve the immediate needs of my story.
In very brief summary, for 2024, I will:
Prioritise the Vanessa Marwood crime series and my backlist
Focus 'side hustles' on tasks that serve the author community. That includes ME!
Be on alert when I get a new idea. Slow down. Reflect before activation
Be more organised with my research time
This has really helped me declutter my mind and focus for 2024 and I think a similar journey could help you, too!
Remember: I've also created a guide for any authors who might want to do the same.