Getting Ideas from My Day Job

I had a wonderful half-hour-plus interview last week with a real estate reporter from the Wall Street Journal. She called because she’s intrigued by my dual career as Realtor and author of a mystery series with an amateur sleuth who just happens to be a real estate agent.

Vicki Doudera here, hoping that the article appears in print sometime soon, and launches me into the crime-writing stratosphere.  In the meantime, I enjoyed the conversation immensely, mainly because she asked such great questions, and I came away from our discussion with several observations that I didn’t have before.

1. My Day Job Has Helped my Work Ethic. You know how journalists make good novelists because they know how to write to deadlines and don’t buckle to so-called “writer’s block?” The reporter wondered if being in real estate had helped me knuckle down and write, and I realized it was true. The deadlines inherent in helping someone buy or sell property are good training, not only for accomplishing things on time, but also for putting the paralyzing kind of perfectionism we writers tend to favor to bed.

BRE (Before real estate,) I wrote magazine articles, generally about a thousand words in length, and writing one took me months and months.  That’s right — one!

Now these were not super-complex treatises on the meaning of life, but how-to gardening or cooking articles, historical pieces or light essays.  Why did I anguish over them – each – for waaaaaay too long?  Mainly because I could.

For one thing, I wasn’t trying to get as much done as I am now, so a project could expand to fill not only entire days, but weeks. Secondly, I could indulge my love of nit-picking perfectionism, the recurring  rounds of editing and rewriting that never seem to end, because I had too much time. Real estate changed my work habits, and those changes have carried over to my current career as a novelist.

2. Real Estate is Exciting. Sometimes I forget this when I am juggling several transactions at once, but describing deals to this reporter (and why I’d put them in mysteries) made me reflect on the adrenalin-rush nature of selling property.  The mystery I am writing now – Deal Killer – takes place in Manhattan, where, as one broker said, it is “raining money” from the “overseas super-rich.” My premise – a murder involving a Russian billionaire’s daughter for whom a $30 million apartment was purchased as a “dorm in the sky” – is not at all far-fetched in this overheated market of wealthy foreigners vying for their bites of the Big Apple.

But here’s something you might be surprised to learn:  even the “little” deals are exciting to me. Really!  The house I bemoan as fit only for the proverbial little old lady suddenly has – you guessed it – a little old lady eager to buy it. A log cabin that belonged to a hoarder of antiques (and took months to clean out) is enjoying a flurry of activity, and the homebuyers whose commitment I questioned will buy a property at the end of the month.  You never know who will walk in the door, call on the phone, or send a random email.  It could be someone wanting information on a modest ranch …. or a mega mansion.

3. I Do Love the People I Meet. The reporter asked me if I would abandon real estate if my book sales shot through the roof, and I said no.  The thing is, I enjoy people too much not to have guaranteed contact with them nearly every day, and I especially enjoy meeting new people.  Here’s an example.  The other day a couple walked into the office (we call them “walk-ins” – so clever!) to discuss buying an older home in Camden. Suddenly the woman leans forward and says urgently, “Tom, we have to tell Vicki the truth!”

I’m expecting something such as “We don’t have a red cent to our names!” or “We’re both headed to jail in two months!” but it turned out the woman’s father, an elderly man in his nineties, had just died and they were most likely flying to California in a day or two for the funeral.  

These kinds of encounters fuel my creativity.  Perhaps I could extrovert enough by hanging out in cafes or upping my volunteer efforts even more, but I doubt it.  I think, as crazy as my life sometimes is, that it works just right for me.

I’m grateful to the WSJ reporter for helping me remember this and wondering…what’s something you’ve learned about your career recently that surprised you?


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