Monday, December 18, 2006

Getting the Hang of It

by Michael Dymmoch

I used to own a house, a handyman special, and it was great training for a writer. Over the years, I did a lot of home improvement projects, and the most important thing I learned from them is that it always takes longer; it always costs more. And it usually involves three trips to the hardware store.

My new home is a condo, so I’m still doing home improvement projects—most recently replacing some of the track lighting with stained glass fixtures I picked up at rummage and estate sales. Simple, right? You just turn off the power, replace the old equipment with the “new” old equipment, and turn the power back on. And the track lighting was already attached to the ceiling.

Well not quite so simple. My condo has 15 foot concrete ceilings. So suspending anything from them requires good balance and a really tall ladder. When Mike, the building engineer, delivered the ten-footer I was borrowing to do the job, he looked at the “new” fixture and said, “I don’t know if I’d trust your old hangers to carry that much weight.”

“What would you suggest?” I asked. One thing I’ve learned about home improvement projects is to get all the expert advice you can. And my building engineers have lots of experience suspending things from ceilings.

“I’d put in a new hanger,” he told me. “One I knew was strong enough.”

Since drilling into concrete is something I’d done successfully only once—at ground level, I immediately asked if I could hire him to do the job in his spare time. We agreed on a time. He said he’d bring the gadgets that go into the ceiling. I said I’d go to the hardware store and get 10 feet of BX cable and a sturdy chain.

Mike arrived on time and got right to work. I started to connect the new chain to the fixture and discovered I’d forgotten to get lamp wire to go from the electrical box on the ceiling down the chain to the fixture. Fortunately, I live near a hardware store, so while he disconnected the old lights, I ran out and got ten feet of black wire.

When I got back and tried to attach the new wire, I discovered that I’d inadvertently bought the kind of were used on not-so-small appliances, and it was too large to go through the top of the fixture. Back to the hardware store for the correct item.

By this time Mike had installed a heavy duty hanger and an electrical box on the ceiling and discovered he’d forgotten to bring a cover for the box. To leave it open would be unsightly and against code, so while he wired up the box and suspended the chain from the new hook, back to the store I went. It took another half hour to decide just how high to hang the light. (Mike was smart—or experienced—enough to leave an extra ten inches of chain and lamp wire coiled out of sight in case I want to lower the fixture later.)

Seeing the “new” fixture finally glow where the old track light had glared was—for someone who hates track lighting—an ahhhh experience. And it only took twice as long as estimated.

All very nice you say. What’s it got to do with writing?

When you get an idea for a story, it seems like a simple task to just write it. If you want the job done well, however, it’s gonna take longer. It’s gonna cost more in time and mental effort than you originally estimated. You’re gonna have to rewrite. You may even require expert advice, or at least encouragement from another experienced writer or an editor.

But if you know before you start that it’s gonna take longer and it’s gonna cost more, if you're persistent and patient, you should be very pleased with your result.


Michael Dymmoch said...

Should have made one more trip to the hardware store (typo, ¶8).

The Home Office said...

Not to impugn your home improvement skills, but I was wondering if you said home improvements are great training for a writer because of all the humorous anecdotes that were sure to ensue. That's always been the case with me. There was this toilet once...

Michael Dymmoch said...

There's that too.

Nienke said...

Oh yeah. Take what you are SURE it's going to cost, and double it. This is also true for building your own house. Believe me, I know.
Thx for the advice.