Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Joe Bongiorno: My Writing Day

My writing day begins at around 7 am. I’m hunched over in front of the espresso machine, watching the coffee trickle down into my cup. After frying up some eggs, scarfing them down and doom-scrolling through the news, I retreat to my office desk.

I kick off projects on my typewriter. I like the feel of the keys and the sound of the machine’s metal innards spitting out words letter by letter. But the typewriter is more than an aesthetic choice. It isn’t hooked up to blackhole of infinite distractions that is the internet. Most important of all, I can’t erase the words. Once chosen, they can’t be taken back.

Sometimes I have an outline scrawled out on a page in my notebook. Other times I’m jolted by a line I wrote on a mustard-stained napkin or one of the dozen Post-It notes stuck to the wall. Whichever way the process starts, once I get going, I write without stopping to edit until it feels like the story fragments make some kind of intuitive sense, enough to proceed to the next stage. It has taken me years to accept writing without immediately interrupting the process to judge the work.

I eat a quick lunch at around 12 and slurp down another caffeine hit. Once wired, I read through the typewritten papers riddled with punctuation errors, misspellings and random capitalizations. The mistakes don’t matter at this point. In fact, I am strangely proud of them. I scribble notes about the story structure and direction in the margins. I use a fountain pen. Again, I like the way it feels, the firm pen barrel against my fingers. The calluses on my writing hand are earned after a day’s work.

In the midafternoon, I switch to my laptop to flesh out the bones. Rewrite, edit and shape. If it works out, the scribblings will transform into a legible story. If it doesn’t, it will end up in the digital scrap heap.

Sometimes I listen to music to get into the groove. I like to think that each story I write has a color, a visceral texture, but more often than not, music disrupts rather than inspire. Unlike my typewriter, my laptop is connected to the web, and I don’t have the monk-like resolve to disconnect myself from Skynet. I fight against the urge to scour YouTube for the Top 10 best quiche recipes.

My office is made up of four walls. No windows and only limited space for light to trickle into. Restlessness sets in. My retinas are sizzled from the screen glare. From this moment to the end of the day’s shift, I will be on the move within my apartment, and each move is punctuated by a shot of espresso.

I used to write at the neighbourhood café, but now that this is no longer an option, I’ve been writing more at the kitchen table. It’s sturdy and comfortable, but the wood eventually makes my butt go numb. The living room couch works well enough for about an hour before I sink into the space between the cushions. Sometimes I write in bed, but my eyelids tend to grow heavier there. Wherever I am, I write and rewrite until it feels right.

By the time the sun goes down, I’m all out juice. The world outside of the writing bubble comes a-knockin.’ Work emails, an empty fridge, a ringing phone. As I make supper, I try not to think about writing. I try not to sabotage the story sapling before it’s had a chance to come together and convince me it’s worth cultivating.

Tomorrow, I do it all over again.



Joe Bongiorno is a Montreal-based author and journalist. His writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in literary journals including Geist, Canadian Notes & Queries, Event, Freefall, Broken Pencil, and The Antigonish Review. His journalistic work has appeared in media outlets like The National Observer, CBC, and The Montreal Gazette. He was shortlisted for both the Freefall 2018 and 2019 Prose & Poetry Contest. He won Event’s 2019 Speculative Writing Contest. Joe is currently working on a novel and a short story collection.

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