17 MIN READ
A year ago, just as the Delta wave of Covid-19 was once again shutting down Nepali schools, shops, and businesses, Pranaya Rana and I launched the Writing Journeys series to share stories about writing and learning to write. We asked Nepali nonfiction storytellers to write about how they learned their craft, with the hope that others could benefit from hearing about their trials, tribulations, and triumphs.
Nepali schools do so very little to teach real writing, as opposed to grammar and spelling, that many Nepalis don’t realize that writing is a skill that can be taught and learned much like any other skill. Even worse, some Nepalis end up thinking they can’t learn to write, when mostly the problem is that they’ve never been taught. The Writing Journeys series is a way to share good ideas about a very difficult activity – writing.
In today’s article, we celebrate the 33 authors who’ve shared their writing journeys with a few selections from their inspiring, interesting essays. We hope you’ll enjoy these samples and that you’ll look back at the original essays. All are worth revisiting.
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“I realized writing is a path paved with uncertainty, self-doubt, and a constant reckoning with your own limitations. Often it brings little or no money. If, despite all this, one still wants to write, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Shradha Ghale:‘I’m still learning to write, I guess the process never ends’
“An op-ed is opinion writing, and like all opinion, it has to be persuasive. The idea is not to hit someone over the head with an ax but to carefully dismantle the other side’s argument with a scalpel. After all, we are not trying to preach to the converted but to bring around those who do not necessarily agree with us.”
“Ideas are like birds. The writing process allows us to observe our ideas - these multicolored restless birds - more carefully. And if we want to study the birds closely, we better put them down on paper. If we don’t make time to draft and revise, to put these restless birds on paper, they’ll fly away and we might never see them again.”
Niranjan Kunwar, ‘Even if words don’t come easily, I keep at it, trusting the process’
“I like almost every part of making a film. I like the process of discovery. It begins as a blank slate, when you have little inkling of the nature of the film, the nature of the undertaking. The story begins to unravel, you get that inkling, when you get to the filming site you encounter the reality, which will be your ‘material’, with which you interact, each part of the process generating other parts.”
Kesang Tseten, ‘I like the process of discovery’
“When you grow up with a mother tongue where most stories are passed orally generation to generation but get educated in English, you grow up with a hunger to listen to and tell stories orally, along with the urge to write them down.”
“Writing can be a way of life, a means to express one’s identity and experiences. This realization, however, came at a later stage of my life. Throughout secondary school, writing was only about completing essays where the focus was mostly on grammar. My school's exam-centric teaching-learning model did not emphasize what made ‘good’ writing but rather what was ‘grammatically correct’ writing. The school emphasized articles, prepositions, and verb tenses, but ignored clarity, flow, and idea connection.”
“During my school days, during the 1990s, I did not get a chance to read a diverse variety of creative books…. I rarely got to read stories, novels, or other creative writings not part of the school course. But I did get to hear travel narratives and some religious stories from my grandfather. When I was able to hear and read stories outside of the school curriculum, I felt like I was discovering a new world.”
Janak Raj Sapkota: ‘Ordinary people have extraordinary experiences’
At St. Xavier’s, Father Blanchard “was disorganization personified. Another teacher described him as the “delightfully most disorganized man I have ever met!” But his literature classes were magic; and it is to him that many of us owe our capacity to appreciate good literature and love brilliant expressions. It is still vivid in my memory, him telling us what a great difference it made to not say “time passed slowly” but to express it as, “the hours moved like lazy cattle across a landscape”.”
Dipak Gyawali: ‘The hours moved like lazy cattle across a landscape’
“I know that I'll love researching a new book, and will enjoy outlining it in what I call a ‘Zero Draft’….The Zero Draft takes me anywhere from months to years, during which life feels full of possibility and hope. I also know I will hate — absolutely hate — writing Draft One.
Revision is what infuses my writing process with life. While clarifying and tightening each draft, I can tease out the subtler elements of the manuscript — the imagery, the secondary themes, the rhythm of the prose, its tone and texture, the voices of the characters, and the mood of the overall work….Revision is what breathes ‘prana’, or breath, into my stories, animating them fully.”
Manjushree Thapa: ‘It never gets easier, but I love writing’
“While at home, I was assigned to take the cattle to graze in the evening. One such evening, I discovered my badka kaka’s (eldest uncle’s) book collection. I borrowed a book and took the buffalo to the fields. I sat on the buffalo’s back and had enough space to place my book in front of me to read comfortably. Those buffalo rides were quite enjoyable. I didn’t have to do much. I would just sit and read so many books while the buffalo kept grazing.”
Chandrakishore: ‘A good story must have multiple perspectives'
“Around this time, in my mid-teens, my father suggested I copy Time magazine essays every week. The likes of Lance Morrow, Roger Rosenblatt, and Charles Krauthammer became my early teachers. I admired the way they meshed current events with history and philosophy into such vivid prose. The writing was tight. There seemed to be no word that didn’t belong there. I included a few books of great quotations, along with the dictionary, thesaurus, and almanac, next to my typewriter.
Sanjay Upadhya, ‘Question your assumptions, play the devil’s advocate’
“That first day, as I huffed and puffed after a five-minute jog, my mind went blank. All I could feel was pain, in muscles I didn’t know existed, in ways that seemed physiologically impossible. As I walked out of the park, I doubted I would ever run again. The next day, I returned. Then, the day after. Four years later, I continue to run….
As with running, where the first kilometer is usually the hardest, with nonfiction writing too, it gets better. The aches will come, without doubt. The trick lies in not letting it get to you, to be patient, to stay on track. Let the curiosity that first brought you to the track push you forward.”
Amish Mulmi: ‘Come rain or shine, I sat at my desk’
“My writing life began by keeping an occasional daily journal as a teenager. Writing was my most reliable friend. I could touch and feel. I could talk. I could get mad. I could cry. I could tear it up. I could show my gigantic love. I could tell my secrets. Writing in my diary was safe and special for me. I could paint my dreams with words.”
Sarita Pariyar: ‘Who is going to tell our stories?’
“I recommend active reading. Each student should delve into a text with the belief that the text being read is not about some abstract and faceless author and reader(s) but about himself or herself and real-life issues. They should feel free to react to the text based on their own knowledge and experience. They should agree, disagree, ask questions, question assumptions, and so forth. My tip is to render the face of the text dirty by scribbling all you want across its face. Not out of anger but with curiosity and love, as if you were chatting with the author who is seated across your table.
When you do that, you have suddenly upped the ante on the investment of your own self about the pages you are reading. That’s what I mean by active reading.”
Chaitanya Mishra: ‘I enjoy seeking to answer the question ‘Why?’’
“When I was young, I was fond of writing. I used to write on education, environment, and science and technology. While in school, I never got any ideas from teachers on how to draft an effective article. My primary and secondary school teachers gave priority to rote learning, which continues even today.
In rural Nepal, access to education is usually a pipedream for blind students.”
Dev Datta Joshi: ‘Effective writing plays a vital role in changing society’
“Libraries were vital spaces for me, in particular small community libraries. As an eight-year-old in 1980s India moving from a Himachal Pradesh village to Delhi’s moral and physical filth and clamor, the best gift I got was a one-room library attached to a neighborhood temple.”
Anagha Neelakantan: ‘Write because it makes you think or feel’
“Some of us become writers late in life and some of us earlier for various reasons. It is unfair to put tags that qualify or make some of us ‘good’, ‘gifted’ writers while others are ‘bad’. Instead, writing is the art of craftsmanship; we find our own process, voice, and reason to write….One way or another, we can all be thinkers and writers, especially when we put in sufficient effort and get support from others.”
Dhirendra Nalbo: ‘We can all be thinkers and writers’
“My grandfather was a mason, my father a carpenter, and my grandmother and mother were skilled with handicrafts. I was born in a family where one hand worked the fields while the other built the city’s palaces….I never took to formal education. In fact, it was a huge source of boredom for me….But radio, newspapers, and other books fascinated me.”
Rajendra Maharjan: 'Changing the world with words'
“I went to school mostly in Kathmandu, but I developed my passion for English language and literature at a very modest public library in my hometown of Bhadrapur in my late teens in the 1980s. Among my earliest readings were short story volumes and novels by Somerset Maugham and two great Russian writers — Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I read all their masterpieces. They were writing about places and people completely alien to me — a very cold Russia, a very different civilization, and an extremely complex set of characters; War and Peace alone has more than 550 of them. Yet, I found myself relating to these strange stories and decidedly unconventional protagonists.”
Akhilesh Upadhyay: ‘Reading gives us insight; writing makes us precise’
“One day — I was around 10 — Buwa came home with two identical diaries for me and my sister, Sewa. Mine was a simple gray one with three flowers swirling on the cover. “You must write one page in this diary every day, and show it to me,” he said…. So, with great curlicues and flourishes, I began writing.”
Richa Bhattarai: 'A day that I do not write is a day wasted'
“My grandfather also learned the Devanagari script from his friends. He used this skill to write appeals and letters to help village leaders and relatives defend their interests in Rana courts and offices. I was fortunate to grow up in the positive environment he created for reading and writing, even in the all-pervasive peasant setting. He was an interlocutor between the Tamang and the wider world. Seeing him in public, I could feel the power of words.”
Mukta Singh Tamang: ‘Writing to power requires reading against the grain’
“Talking to people not only helps us understand the human dimension, it sometimes changes the way we tell the story.”
Sonia Awale: ‘Writers and journalists must be patient’
Writing is a world of power, of possibility. I started reading, and I started writing, because I was displaced. Displaced in Nepal, displaced in America, displaced in exile. Writing places me. Or rather, it helps me place myself. I write, therefore I am.
Tenzin Dickie: ‘Writing is how I make sense of my world’
“I did not set out to be a journalist. I just liked telling stories.”
Sahina Shrestha: ‘I like exploring different forms of storytelling’
“I found a huge disconnect between the local-level realities and the big promises by policymakers. Gradually, I understood why. Most of the water plans were grand schemes, guided by the developmentalist state with total faith in science and technology. This made things easier for budget allocation and to present a narrative of development and growth. But it oversimplified complex local realities and was not able to deliver, particularly in places with poor governance.”
Ajaya Dixit: ‘Water is about people, politics, and power’
“I wrote when I felt pain. When I burned. When something pricked me. The stories of several people continue to inspire me to write.”
“Above all, I like unearthing unknown facts about Nepali cultures, foods, and traditions, and sharing them with wider audiences….Unearthing these unknown details motivates me to write more.”
Sanjib Chaudhary: ‘Unearthing unknown details motivates me to write’
“I decided that I would henceforth only read literature that was written for workers by workers. But sadly, this kind of literature was very limited.
I began to think, if there’s no such literature out there then I should become a writer. But how? I was the first to learn to read and write in my family. How could I do something that no one in my family had ever done?”
“I had not fully understood the value of analyzing published papers and book chapters and adding insights to our assignments. Reading articles would not just provide evidence to substantiate our arguments, but would also display how other scholars structured their writing and organized their essays. Simply put, the models would show us how to write.
Laxman Gnawali: ‘Students need good models of writing to learn from’
“Writing a dissertation can be a lonely process. To me, for the most part, it was also a process filled with self-doubts and an inferiority complex, some of which was perhaps rooted in the ‘imposter syndrome’. For the longest time, I had reservations about sharing my draft paragraphs and chapters.”
Sabin Ninglekhu: ‘Validation is to be found in the struggle within’
“All these years, every time I sit down to write, a sentence flashes into my mind: writing is not easy….Though I love writing, I always dread the pain involved.”
Ujjwal Prasai: ‘Don’t just read what is popular’
“When I first discovered kinema, I realized how little I knew about Nepali ethnic cuisines. I knew more about global cuisines than my own. Nepali cuisines are narrowly defined by a handful of cuisines, a hegemony of upper caste and urban Newa food cultures. This prompted me to explore and write about the diversity of Nepali food heritages.”
Prashanta Khanal: ‘Cooking nurtures your body, writing nurtures your mind’
“In the heart of Karnali, the village sits surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains... In that pretty village, even today, people continue to say, “Why send a daughter who is just going to get married and go to someone else’s house to school?” It is a tradition in our village to get married at a young age. Because of that, most abandon their studies in the fourth or fifth grade. I was afraid that if I stopped studying, they would marry me off. So I didn’t stop.”
Tom Robertson Tom Robertson, PhD, is an environmental historian who writes about Kathmandu and Nepali history. His Nepali-language video series on writing, 'Mitho Lekhai', is available on Youtube. His most recent article, 'No smoke without fire in Kathmandu’, appeared on March 5 in Nepali Times.
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