Saturday Features

Writing a book is about creating an entire universe

Basanta Basnet’s journalism career began while he was still in school in Panchthar, writing for a weekly paper called Rabi and the Panchthar Sandesh. With ambitions of becoming a writer, he would publish short stories but also do interviews. Since those early days, Basnet has come a long way, working as a journalist and political analyst for Kantipur and now for Nepal magazine. His first book, 2072 ko Bismaya—a political, non-fiction book about the Nepali year 2072 BS, the year of the earthquake, the drafting of the constitution and widespread unrest in the Tarai—is being launched today. In this interview with the Post’s Alisha Sijapati, Basnet talks about his work process and on balancing his work as a journalist with his passion for writing books. Excerpts:

You’ve been a full-time journalist for the past eight years. What was the transition into becoming a full-fledged writer of books like?

I have been a long-form writer since the very beginning. I enjoy doing in-depth analyses and investigative work. It was only after I joined Kantipur that I started writing short form. People would tease me about it—they would ask facetiously how someone who never wrote articles shorter than 2,700 words could stoop to becoming a short form writer. But because I have always been a long form writer, I knew that I could write a book someday. But nothing is as easy as it seems. I realise now that writing a book is about creating an entire universe while long form writing is merely making a room and decorating it slightly. Though intimidated in the beginning, after writing the first draft, I felt as if I could continue doing it and by the end I had over 120,000 words without even realising it. After I finished and re-read my first draft, a lot of things had to be cut down. I solicited advice from experienced writers regarding how best to write my book and learned the hard way the gruelling process of writing, redacting and rewriting.

As an editor yourself, how difficult was it for you to have an editor for your book?

Fortunately, I had a great publishing house, Fineprint, and more so, I had a hands-on editor, Ajit Baral. Because I was already an established writer of sorts, neither the publishing house nor the editor meddled much with the content of the book. However, I always received constructive criticism from the editor, most of which I ended up implementing.

You are a full-time journalist and journalism is supposed to be objectivem, whereas, other types of writing tend to be more subjective. Was it a difficult transition from one to the other?

Many believe that journalism is objective, but objectivity in journalism is just pretence. As journalists, we work under certain constraints. Ultimately, even the editor answers to the company; therefore, journalistic reporting in major publications is often heavily stylised and edited. However, when it comes to writing a book, you have a lot more independence as a writer and artist.

2072 ko Bismaya is a unique title. Can you tell us what prompted you to write this book?

I used to do long form reporting for Kantipur and I wanted to get into the political beat. I talked to [then editor] Sudheer Sharma, who asked me if I was interested in the Madhes beat and writing on the topic of the national identity crisis, post-monarchy. I cannot tell you just how fortuitous that was for me. Although, not a major beat, I was more than happy to take it because the subject interested me deeply. Even back then, I had an inkling about how important these issues were going to be in the near future. The ongoing post-transition period could prove to be decisive in terms of determining the future of the Madhes.

Still, I couldn’t put everything into one book. This is a non-fiction work that focuses on what has been dubbed ‘the post transition period’—I knew I needed to streamline some original writing. I have had extensive first-hand experience in the field, which has served me well in terms of composing this work, and so my book is grounded in reality.

How did you manage time between day-to-day journalism and writing the book?

I didn’t do anything else aside from write. Only five people knew that I was working on this book. I was always busy, as when I was not working on the book, I was writing for the newspaper. I used to go to the field but then read at night and write in the morning. Eventually, I took a week or two off from work to finish the book.

Who are your inspirations?

That’s easy—George Orwell, Ramachandra Guha, Arundhati Roy, Alice Walker and Susan Sontag.

Did you go through writer’s block from time to time?

I already had a structured plan for the book. And yet, once I started writing, I would sometimes have to skip certain chapters or totally change some ideas—so, the actual writing process never really goes according to plan.

What advice do you have for budding writers?

Don’t cheat, don’t feel inferior. Don’t get scared, be honest and express yourself. Also, do not forget the importance of commitment and passion.

Published: 2018-09-08 08:10:02