Jilly: What I Learned About Writing From My Builder

What I Learned About Writing From My BuiilderIt’s been a crazy week at Casa Jilly. I’m desperately trying to Finish The Damn Book, and we have a crew of builders working on the exterior of the house. My preferred place of work is on the sofa, with my laptop. It’s not as comfortable as usual with the outside doors open letting in the cold November air, along with the sounds of scraping, sanding, mixing and hammering, and the smell of filler and paint.

If you’re thinking it’s a little late in the year to be doing outdoor maintenance, you’d be right, although so far the weather has been kind. The story is that there’s a team of Polish guys who do most of the building work in our street. If they aren’t next door at my neighbor’s house, or fixing something for the neighbor’s friends across the street, they’ll rarely be more than a few houses away. They’re a better harbinger of spring than any cuckoo; they disappear for a month in August, and then stay until the end of the year, weather permitting. The only downside is that they’re unbelievably busy, always, so you have to put your job on their radar and wait your turn. My turn came around in July, just as I was leaving for RWA Nationals, so I had to pass. I got a second chance a couple of weeks ago, and took it before somebody else could jump in.

The builders have been under my nose and on my mind for the last couple of weeks, and in addition to making the house look as good as new, they’ve taught me a few things.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s possible to write in less than perfect conditions. If this job had gone ahead as planned in July, I suspect I would have retired somewhere comfortable for the duration with my ipod and a good book. Because the end is in sight, and I want to enter my story in the Golden Heart contest (entry date fast approaching), that wasn’t an option. I’ve had to power through, and guess what? It’s been working just fine, aided by nothing more than plenty of extra coffee and a couple of hot water bottles.

A few other things I’ve noticed, working in close proximity with these guys:

Word of mouth is a powerful tool

The builders first appeared about ten years ago, to do a simple job for a Polish lady further up the street. One of her neighbors noticed what good work they were doing, asked them to do something for him and…long story short, a decade later, they’re still here. They don’t have branded vans, or t-shirts, or any signage whatsoever. They don’t go round and knock on doors, prospecting for business. They just quietly get on with doing a great job, knowing that keeping their customers happy will bring recommendations, which will lead to all the business they need.

If you’re good enough, people will wait for you

After I missed my slot in July, I thought I might have to wait until the Spring. The house was in desperate need of a refurb, and I really wanted the job done before the winter, but it never occurred to me to look for another builder. They’re worth waiting for.

Don’t skimp on the preparation

These guys get great results because they prepare meticulously. They’ll replace the broken bits, fill, sand, whatever, but they won’t start prettifying anything until they have a sound structure.

Put the work in

They show up a few minutes before 8am, down a cup of coffee, and then work steadily till 4pm. No fuss, no drama, just consistent application. It’s amazing how fast the job gets done.

Do the job properly

I love the way they never fudge or cut corners. They work as hard on the bits you don’t see as the bits you do.

Be flexible

Sometimes things don’t go the way they expect. A structure that looks okay turns out to be rotten. When they really dig into something they have to go much deeper than they thought. They’re constantly re-assessing, and they’re not afraid to make a change if the plan isn’t right any more.

It takes as long as it takes

They have a pretty good idea of how long they expect to take, but if things change and they need to spend a little longer, that’s what they’ll do. They’d never rush and do a botch job to hit a deadline, self-imposed or external.

Lotta food for thought there. Did you learn anything from an unexpected source this week?

7 thoughts on “Jilly: What I Learned About Writing From My Builder

    • Don’t settle, Kay!

      I forgot to say, the Polish all-stars are also very nice and super-polite. I had a text from the boss guy recently that concluded ‘very please and thank you.’ Nice.

    • (-: This is a true thing — you don’t have to put up with second-rate builders. My mom has a Mexican guy come in and do work. He’s polite, can fit her in, and doesn’t pull the “little old lady” crap with her. Which is a lesson to us as writers, but if you think of agents as builders as well . . . there are good ones, and there are not-so-good ones, and there are ones that are too busy to mess with “small fry” — which is fine, until the small fry turn into big fry.

  1. I like that. It can also apply to other things – any job, cooking, writing, construction, and car repair. I need to get crackin’ on my 3rd story so I’m ready to start #4 in January. I hope you can close your door soon – brrr.

  2. We will have workmen outside our house in a few weeks to install a patio. Like your project, it might seem late in the year to start, and in fact was supposed to start in the beginning of Nov and take one week, but our contractor is also busy and we’ve had to wait our turn.

    What I’ve learned from the story of your workmen is I might need a back -up plan for where to go to write when the workmen are here. (Hubby will be working from home to keep an eye on the project, so I am off the hook for that.) Good thing the public library is a short drive away!

    • Good work delegating the construction supervision to your hubby, Nancy! Hope you have a nice, warm, quiet, comfortable library 🙂 .

  3. (-: Really good lessons to take from these guys. It’s important to realize we are craftspeople, too, and look it from the consumer point of view. There are a lot of people out there who want a good, solid story — not a crazy mess from a “genius” or something that falls apart when you start poking it in the second act.

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