Windows and Movement. When thinking about my process, windows and movement are the two common denominators behind my writing.
I have a desk, but I associate the desk with work, the office, homework, school, and studying. I don’t think of writing as work, though it is. I want and need my writing to be free of that pressure. So I write at spots in my apartment that are near windows.
My bedroom window faces 168th street in the Bronx, a soft hill peppered with bodegas and bakeries, the library, Sacred Heart Elementary School, and Sacred Heart Church. Sitting in my black office chair I can see the tops of trees, hear the birds chirp, and feel the wind on my face. I get it all at that spot: a sense of community, a sense of nature, and the solitude required for writing. Most often my stories take place in the South Bronx. In a way writing near the windows inspires me and allows me to connect to those streets and the people of my borough.
In the living room my childhood toy box sits under the second window. It’s filled with old notebooks and dusty VHS Disney movies but is sturdy enough to serve as a bootleg chair for my window writing. The ledge is just wide enough for my notebook to rest. The window is lovely but doesn’t have a great view. You can only see the neighboring building—a kitchen window, a bathroom window without blinds, and a family who’s not ashamed of nudity. But the city steps run between the neighboring building and my own, connecting Shakespeare and Jerome Avenues. This creates a gap, a sort of valley, which allows voices to travel up. From the 5th floor, I can hear perfectly the conversations between bums and the stories young children tell each other on their way home from school. I can hear Edgar greet Mike as he opens the bodega in the morning. I can hear people fight, people love, and people steal. I am provided with a plethora of material from this window. Sometimes, I record snippets of these voices on my tumblr, That’s the Monkey! Other times, I use the dialogues to inform my characters’ speech characteristics and word usage.
When I am bored of my apartment, which I often am, I like to go down to those city steps. I sit on the bottom and listen to the swaying trees. When I was younger I was blind to the number of trees there were in the Bronx, blinded mostly by my hate for the borough and the misconceptions my perception carried. Now I see the green everywhere. These steps help me appreciate the borough that often serves as a backdrop to my tales.
I write everything on paper first—on notebooks, post-its, and abandoned scraps of paper. Then I type my scribbles up in Word. Just the transfer from paper to laptop is a great editing technique. I can see things I didn’t before and the brief break in time allows me to smooth rough sentences and fill in gaps. After that I print out my work and edit again on paper. For this I like to work at my dining table. It’s a circular glass table with enough room for me to lay everything out: my laptop, my notebooks, edited sheets, and sheets to be amended. I like to set the table with everything I need so that I can edit in uninterrupted blocks. I usually have my cup of coffee, a glass of iced tea, water, and snacks like dried cranberries, cherries, pomegranates, or shredded almonds.
I do my writing at home, but when I get stuck, movement is critical. It doesn’t surprise me anymore that my best work and ideas come to me on the 4-train. There is something about the rocking of the train that unblocks my mind. The loud rumbling of the train traveling through its tracks gives me a zoomed focus that’s almost impenetrable. One of my favorite professors at NYU, Lara Vapnyar, an amazing Russian author, often spoke of the power of movement. She would take long walks when she didn’t know what to write next. And somehow, almost magically, she would find her answers. Her words stay with me when I am on a train. It’s a different movement, but I understand what she means now. It’s like the motions move you forward, propelling the work to a better place.
Gilmarie Brioso is a young writer from the Bronx. She earned her B.A. at New York University and has an M.F.A from The New School. She is currently working on her first novel, How to be the Perfect Dominican-American Daughter. Connect with her on Twitter or Tumblr!