Staying Motivated Long-Term with Hayley Krischer

Staying Motivated

This week on the podcast is all about staying motivated. New year’s is typically a peak in motivation for us. But after a year like 2020, I don’t know about you, mostly what I have been feeling is tired. . So I chose this theme to help remind me of all the things I know about getting started and keeping going.

Today I’m interviewing Hayley Krischer. Hayley is a journalist and a frequent contributor to the New York Times, as well as the author of the fabulous young adult novel, Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf— a book that she worked on for decades. I’m excited to talk to her today because I know she’s got some great insights to share on how to get motivated and stay that way over the long term. 

Listen To The Podcast Here

You just came out with an amazing YA novel, Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf. It’s getting great reviews, including in the New York Times! How long did you work on that book?

Oh my goodness. I’ve worked on this book, and I don’t want to scare anybody, but I have worked on this book for about 20 years. So it was not an overnight thing. And there’s been many, many iterations of it. It started when I was in college. It started as a short story and it was just one of those things that I couldn’t get out of my mind.

And so I kept coming back to it. I think it was a perfect example of how you really sort of have to listen to yourself. And if your mind keeps telling you, “I want to do this,” you have to keep exploring. It’s important to keep going.

Absolutely. But you know, the thing is, is that anytime we’re working on something that’s important to us that maybe keeps coming back to us in the middle of the night–but it’s not that urgent, you know, in the same way that things like day jobs and parenting can be–it’s easy to lose focus, or even try to talk ourselves out of devoting time and energy to that thing. So how did you stay in touch with your motivation over that time period of 20 years? I mean, that’s pretty impressive.

Yeah. I mean, it’s very hard to have boundaries when you have kids. And you know, working from home as a freelance writer, it’s very hard to tell yourself “I have to do this.” When my kids were little, I used to, you know, write when they were taking naps. And so then  I started getting very good at writing in short periods of time, because I had to.

But I think the truth really is, is you have to have dedicated time. And so you have to be able to say to yourself and you have to be able to get sort of a schedule. Because if you’re just going to willy nilly, kind of tell yourself, “Oh, now is a good time to write.” For me personally, that just never really worked. Sometimes I had to wake up at six o’clock in the morning. Sometimes you either need a friend or a sitter, you know, if you have children, to help out. It doesn’t just happen by itself. It really has to happen because you’re setting your mind to it and you’re telling yourself, “I can do this.”

Can we dive in a little bit more to that telling yourself I can do this? Because I think in order to be able to find the time, and to have the discipline, to sit down and think like, “Oh, this is what I’m going to do this week,” or, “The kids are napping, this is my chance. I’m going to sit down and do it.” I think that there’s kind of this hurdle you have to have overcome in the first place, which is admitting to yourself that this matters to me and I’ve got to do it.
Do you have insight on how you did that for yourself? Like, how did you prioritize it over say pitching an article that would bring in some money instead? You know, this is kind of a longer term kind of on spec thing.

I definitely think it’s important to use tools that are already out there. For instance, in November, there’s a writing program that is on the internet. It’s called November write more, I think. And you write. The idea is that you’re supposed to write a book within a month. I personally don’t think that’s possible, but people do it. And I think I definitely started using some of those prompts to help me so that when I sat down, I had specifically a job. For me, it’s if I have a job in my head, this is what I have to work on, then I can really focus.

I also did Jami Attenberg’s 1000 Words of Summer. It was a very simple premise for two weeks. You write 1000 words a day. And you know, sometimes those words have to just be really crappy words. You have to really have a lot of forgiveness for yourself as a writer and  just a person. And have compassion for yourself and your process. That not everything is going to come out and most things, in fact, 99% of it is not going to come out great when you first do it. It’s going to come up very messy and sloppy.

And you kind of have to allow yourself to get into that phase and into that place where, okay, I’m just writing and it’s going to get down on paper and it might not look great. But I need to be able to just get it out there. And so I think that that’s, um, that’s, that’s a huge piece to this.

So kind of diving into this, you said,  if I had a job, I could sit down and do it. I mean, setting out to write a novel is a pretty big goal, right? It’s like saying I’m going to eat an elephant. How did you break it up so that you didn’t get overwhelmed?

Now that is such a good question because after you’re writing something for so long, you have so much material. And I think this question is almost better suited to my second novel that I’ve written, which, I started writing, I guess probably a year and a half ago or so. And I had to really sit down and put down note cards and just start plotting out the story. I personally found that to be very useful.

I know a lot of people just sit down and they’ll just start writing. And whatever sort of comes up, they just put it out. But for me, I needed to sort of have again, like kind of a job. I needed to say, okay, I’m going to write this intro and I’m going to write a chapter of something. Or I’m going to write a character study about this person. And I think that you really have to be able to break things down into your mind and down on paper. At least for me, that that really works taking little small tasks instead of an enormous task.

And even going back to my novel,  Ali Greenleaf. Since there were so many iterations of it, I did have to print out the book multiple, multiple times. And put chapters down on the floor and sort of shuffle it and look at it like a jigsaw puzzle. You know, it’s very hard to just say, okay, I wrote this entire thing and over this large amount of time, and now it’s done. It’s really about cutting, cutting, cutting. Editing, editing, editing. Pulling your hair out, feeling like you’re a boiled hot dog. It’s about coming back to the work, and to the process of the work. So yeah, hopefully, that is helpful.

Definitely. So, we’re talking at the start of the new year. And a lot of listeners are thinking about what they want to accomplish in 2021. We’re all susceptible to that feeling of “This is too big, I’m going to go take a nap.” What’s something practical someone who’s listening can go and do after hearing this episode that gets them started?

I’ll tell you what, I learned this from you. Because you were hugely instrumental to me learning how to get organized in the workplace actually. And I think that it’s really important to sort of have a list and have a check box next to your to-do items.

And sometimes for me, I’ll just even write specific things about my book. Do I need to look at this one character and try to understand her better?  I’ll put that down on my to-do list, along with, hang hooks, reread chapter 10, write more about this conflict. And take a look at why this conflict is happening in the book. I really believe in going very small and baby steps. And, you know, I tell this to my kids now. We can’t solve anything, I don’t think in one entire day. I think you have to really be able to break things up.

For instance, I thought it was really important to be able to clear my desk off. You know, at the start of the new year and make sure everything on my desk was sort of clear. Of course now it’s piled up with books and two of my to-do lists. But I think you have to really start small. You can’t look at an entire book and say, I’m going to write this in a day. Would it be great if you could? It would be amazing. I would love to write a book in a day that would be amazing.

But I think you have to really, you have to have compassion for yourself. And you have to be able to go slow now and let yourself, you know, take the time to do it.

So what’s your best advice for what I think of as the hardest part of the project, which is after you’ve started, right? You’ve had the initial head of steam. You made your list with your check-boxes. Which I love that you still use that.
I feel this at this point, I should probably insert that Hayley and I worked together many years ago at iVillage.com and it was a wonderful partnership, sniff, sniff. I loved it.
So you’ve made your list. You’ve started, you’ve broken the seal. You’ve got that elation. And then after a little while it, that elation wears off and the end is still a long ways off. Like, what’s that, what’s that middle part look like for you? How do you keep yourself going through that part? It sounds like you might be in that place right now with the second novel that you started about a year and a half ago.

Yeah. I mean, the second novel actually is I’m in the edit stage right now. But I will say that that is definitely the worst part. You’re kind of in this little hell zone. Where you want to pull your hair out and you’re doubting yourself. And you’ve got all the terrible voices in your head that are telling you that you can’t do this and that you can’t finish, it’s too much.

And I deal with that constantly all the time. Even if I’m writing an article as a journalist, the middle I think is just absolutely the hardest part. And I think you just have to keep pushing through it. And you have to be able to say yourself, I’m going to do this. I’m going to keep going. You know, and my end result is just going to be today.

It doesn’t have to be, my end result is this book. My end result is just today. My end result is this 1000 words, or 500 words, or that I’ve cleared my desk off and that’s going to be my process. Or I took a walk. Sometimes especially during the pandemic and how stressful everything has become, I feel like as a writer, and I have some of my family and my kids and my husband in my house now. You know, when I used to sort of have my house to myself, to be able to write and get work done. You really have to kind of get yourself out of your comfort zone and say, okay, I’m going to take a walk. I’m going to go outside. I’m going to read a book, if you’re stuck.

Because I think the middle part is when you get the most stuck. So what do you need to do for yourself to make that change? Is it take a bath? I know this sounds so simple, but I have to remind myself of those things too. I think we all do.

Absolutely. So for folks who want to connect with you and read your awesome book, where can they find you?

You can find me at Twitter or Instagram.  My handles are both @HayleyKrischer, and you can also find me at Hayleykrischer.net.

My website is there. And my book can be found anywhere. Amazon, independent bookstores, Barnes and Noble, all of those places.

Daily Tiny Assignment 

When Hayley and I chatted on video before the interview, she showed me her to-do list. Which looked a lot like mine. It was a list of several items with little boxes next to each item. She says she learned it from me, back when we worked together. I, in turn, learned it from a friend. And ironically, my 7th grade daughter had proudly showed me her list that looked exactly the same earlier that morning. 

I can tell you that seeing very clearly what you want to get done and then having a pretty little box next to each item that you can check helps BIG TIME with staying motivated. Yes, you could cross things off, but then you don’t really have a record of the things you did, because you can’t see them anymore. Plus, it starts to look messy and might even make it hard to tell which things are still yet to be done. 

Your tiny assignment is to make a list of things to do for the thing you’re seeking motivation on, and then put a tiny box next to each one.

Your mind will just start itching to be able to cross at least one of them off, I promise. And here’s a pro tip beyond that basic list, and that is to put a star next to the one or two that are most important, so that next time you look at the list you don’t even have to decide which thing you’re going to do, you can go straight to the starred items. 

Alright that’s it from me today. Come back tomorrow when I’m talking about how to get your butt in gear by thinking about all the ways that NOT getting going is adding to your discomfort.

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