Keeping Track ( Joy Preble)

I know exactly when I began writing yearly goals for myself. It was the New Year's Day Eve of 2004 and I had begun to treat writing seriously -- not as something I did sometimes but as something I wanted to do in a professional, published way, with books on shelves. Beyond that, I don't remember why I decided to type a small paragraph size set of goals for myself except that it was New Year's Eve and it felt not exactly like resolutions but more like an accounting, a way to keep myself honest. So I typed them up-- a list of five things, a couple of them more frivolous sounding but all of them focused on changes and transitions and keeping focused on the goal which at that time was to finish the novel I was writing, find an agent, and move on from there.

As I've written about and talked about now and then, I was having a rotten school year. The kind where you either change course or drink a lot or maybe both.  (just to clarify, I was teaching English!) But I don't think that was it entirely. I think I just knew that there was change possible and the moment was here and I had to embrace it now or lose it and so I typed my list.

Not to get too precious about all this, but I do believe what Elizabeth Gilbert writes about in BIG MAGIC (a book I think all creatives should at least skim. Personally I've read it twice.): Ideas come to us and if we don't grab them and do the right thing with them, they slip away and go to someone else. The trick is to be aware enough to know yes, this is the moment. And pull it to you and get to work.

That book I was furiously finishing ended up being Dreaming Anastasia. It did indeed get me an agent and everything (good, bad, and in the middle) that has happened since then.

And I have kept on making my goal lists, expanding to include an accounting of the year just finishing-- actually typing out the things that happened, a brief accounting of books and life and travel and family and world events. I have never met every single goal. But I've always met at least one and usually more than that. In years like the past two where life has felt a bit more upside down, and writing has been painfully slow for a variety of reasons and I have felt invisible far too many days, it helps to be able to both write it down at the end of the year and to read it over now and then during the months to come.

Keeping track in this way makes me accountable. Aware that this is how it goes-- a hilly journey that doesn't always end up where you think you're headed, but if you don't check that internal GPS first and plot a course, you'll just stay where you are.

Was that a good metaphor? I think it probably wasn't, since sometimes we wander without purpose and end up somewhere anyway, but I hope you see my point. Success doesn't happen for most of us 'just because.' We have to pursue it doggedly. And also celebrate the road there.

And so. I keep track.


  1. I love this, Joy. I do the same thing. My first year making specific writing goals was 2007--also the year I truly got serious about pursuing publication. It took me longer than it took you, but I absolutely believe that writing out my goals is what made the difference.

  2. I do write up goals for the year, but I REALLY like the idea of tracking what actually happened, too.

  3. I love the reminder: Ideas come to us and if we don't grab them and do the right thing with them, they slip away and go to someone else. I'm trying to write a song but keep forgetting to write down the lyrics as they come to me. Thanks!


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