I am writing a novel

Shambhavi Basnet
9 min readDec 13, 2022

My name is Shambhavi. I am 26. Technically, I am qualified to be an Economist, but I call myself a WRITER. With some trepidation.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The first time I confessed I want to be a writer was when I was 24. I was in graduate school in Germany and the world was in the early, shallow pit of the Covid pandemic. I was stuck at home in Nepal with no signs of traveling back to Germany to be in an environment (and time zone) where I could pass off as a diligent student. Rather I was sleeping in my comfortable bed, lazying out on the sofa, eating my mom’s food, and taking those soul-sucking, impersonal, online classes that made me rip my brains out. People thought I was lucky — I was home rather than in a foreign land where life would have, arguably, been a hundred times more difficult.

Even though that was probably true, I felt anything but lucky. The world around me was in chaos and the situation inside me was not all that different. Mentally, I was a mess. I didn’t want to take the classes I was supposed to take for the sake of my credits. I didn’t want to learn whatever my professors were eligible and employed to teach me — classes and seminars felt like a chore — and suddenly, my future, which was bright since the moment I learned about my admission to a reputed college in Germany was a chore as well — a dull, drab, monotonous work not too far from discarding the trash, washing dishes or buying groceries. Those days, there were only a few things that gave me joy, one of which were the words that I had written in the past — during moments where I was lost and others when I was suddenly found and as the earth opened its wonders to me and showed its mightiest strengths as well as its deepest insecurities. I read what I wrote and gained some solace from it. My prized possessions were my books and I wanted nothing more than to hide in their pages, or if it was possible, conjure myself inside the world that my books had created. It had come to me — quite clearly and honestly — that there was nothing I’d rather do than create and read words that have some semblance of fiction in them — that when the world turns to a hellish narka, there was nothing I’d rather be and nothing I’d rather do than be a writer and write. That first confession came to me internally and I’d never felt that sense of peace and calm, that fleeting happiness when I finally realized what I wanted to do with my life.

The second time I confessed I want to be a writer was to my parents, who as all parents do, immediately asked what my plan was. I wanted to shout, I don’t have a plan. Give me a minute. I just figured out what I wanted to do with my life. But I did nothing of that sort. I am not the combative type. I think they were alarmed because I was 24 and already on my way to getting a graduate degree. Theoretically, a decision to join a graduate school comes after some thought is already given to one’s future — it is not something that is done in a haste. They were, perhaps, worried about me. I think the life they had imagined for me was coming crashing down.

Or maybe my parent’s reaction is just in my head. Like most things are. That was the first time I had uttered out loud the words that held so much value and importance. My reaction was nothing less than a full-out bawling that required so much courage to chase the underlining apprehension. Moments before confessing to my mother, my throat clogged up and the words remained on the tip of my tongue, refusing to cross that line from the silence that I could never take back. I knew speaking the words out loud would seal it. And that was scary too. It’s one thing to understand what I wanted to do with life, it’s a whole different scenario to take the actual steps to do it.

But that would take some time. Six months later, I packed my bags to return to Germany. I was committed to my Master’s program and was not ready to back out of it yet. Writing ambitions still had to wait.

That remaining one year in Germany was incomprehensibly difficult. The pandemic still had its strong grasp on the people — the vaccinations had only just started to roll out. I was doing something that I didn’t want to be doing in a country that I particularly didn’t want to be living in. I had a minimal social life, and whatever I had, it was with my fellow Economics mates with whom I felt I had lost a connection when I went to Nepal and had a life-altering revelation about my future. These people who already felt so foreign to me felt million light years away. I couldn’t connect with them and the life they had. For the first time in my life, I felt completely alone.

Close to midnight on the 15th of September 2021, I uploaded my thesis, pressed SEND, and turned around to look around my room — somewhere other than my laptop — and found it in complete disarray. I had an open backpack that was half-full with clothes, my power bank was charging and the needed toiletries were being retrieved from different shelves. I was going on a solo 10-day Euro trip the next morning, before flying back to Nepal three days after. I didn’t even pat my back for a job well done after completing my thesis — I jumped from one task to the other.

I treasure that trip a lot because I learned to live with my loneliness. I went to Paris alone and when I saw groups of people — mostly couples — taking pictures and wearing berets, it didn’t depress me. It gave me hope, a resolution — the next time I come here, I’m going to bring someone with me. And just like that, the future was full of possibilities.

I felt more resolved when I returned back to Nepal this time around. I had a mission. I had a concrete story in my head. I was going to start writing my first novel.

For the next two months, I did exactly that. I spent more than eight hours every day — seated at my dining table — writing words that bubbled up from my brain to the screen that passed my fingers in rhythmical tapping. I was vomiting up words, plotlines, and characters with such a speed that would make Stephen King proud. I would get up to consume and eject food, and sleep which, to my surprise, came relatively easily. I attended and (partly) organized weddings, met friends, went on trips and dates, and when an elderly asked me what I was doing with life, as they usually did, I said, I’m still finding the perfect job, which was a lie. I was already doing my perfect job.

Strangely, I was selective in telling people what my true ambitions were. It was, probably, because of the society I lived in, that I felt I couldn’t really reveal to everyone that I wanted to become a writer. Very recently, a granduncle of mine when he found out I was aspiring to become a fiction writer, said, without any hesitation, that my life was ruined. I even met some people from the writing and publishing industry who warned me that writing doesn’t pay enough. They kept asking me again and again whether I really wanted to be a writer as though it was a fluke decision and not something that I would take seriously, with all my heart.

I understand this line of questioning as well — people want to be financially independent and Nepal doesn’t pay its writers. Even the writers in the West face similar problems concerning earning adequate money, until and unless they become bestselling authors, which is relatively rare if we play the numbers game. Thus, every day that my novel progressed to its potential, my writing started becoming more of a dream than an ambition. Eventually, I had to enter the game as well, so I started with some freelance writing, some of which were paid (a pittance), and some were not. But I still wanted to earn money. I couldn’t be 25, living under my parent’s roof, and be completely financially dependent, especially when I was slowly coming of “marriageable” age (don’t even get me started on this). I had to eventually enter the labor market. There was no other option.

It is disheartening when you are faced with these two extremes: either you forego earnings and the possibility of saving money for your future and focus full-time on writing, or you take a well-paid 9-to-5 job and fill the rest of your meager mornings and evenings (and if you are lucky, your Saturdays and Sundays) with writing so that your CV is at least filled with a reputable job while you continue your passion on the side. It sickens me that there is no middle option, and even if there is, it isn’t as respectable or conforming to the standards that my education demands. And as more time passes, and as I jump from one job to the other, I silently question whether I am actually wasting my life taking the arts, whether I made a mistake choosing this life when I could have easily had the other — better — life. This is exacerbated by the fact that I have not studied creative writing — not taken any formal training in writing at all.

Most of all, it frightens me, up to the point that I am unable to form another word or will myself to write, that I would be stuck in this rut — where I am more worried about my own life than my fictional world’s. That I am losing my creativity the more time I spend discussing my financials. Even as I am writing this, I am filled with dread about my future, of what it could become, but most, of what it will not become.

It is during these times, that I have to pause and take a step back. Maybe go for a walk or drink some tea, spend some time with the family or watch TV. Then, eventually, a quote from a book will come to my mind where the writer asks the readers to equate writing to painting on a blank canvas — where if the painter wants to paint the view in front of them, then they should start with the window they are sitting across from — how it looks, what color it is — and then slowly progress to the view outside, one brush stroke at a time. Nowadays, every time I sit to write my novel, I say to myself, I’m painting the window. I’m only painting the window. When I think I’m done with the window, I move on to the walls and then to the room and then, if I feel gutsy, I build the entire house.

It is a slow process —writing a novel. It needs constant positive reinforcement. It needs encouragement from friends and family. Sometimes, the most simple words make the largest impact. I remember my facilitator from one of the writing workshops telling me that some of the best writers, historically, are those that have not studied writing at all, and that fills me up with so much relief. It tells me that I have, perhaps, not deviated as much as I think I have. That perhaps I am on the right track. The only difference is that my track is completely different from others. I don’t need to jump into their tracks, I just have to move along the path I make of my own, on my own.

Thus, I’ll take this moment to make an unhesitating confession to the entire world — I am a writer. Not an aspiring writer or a future writer. But a WRITER. In the present, at this exact moment.

And I am writing my first novel.

Don’t ask me what it is about, or when I’ll be done with it. I know the answer only to the former. I am taking my time, while I figure out life on the side. The only objective that I have right now is to finish the story I want to tell, and if things work out, it’ll be for the world to take and enjoy and critique and maybe love.

So, wish me luck! There’s still some writing left to do today.



Shambhavi Basnet

If you could look from my eyes, you would see red spots in the skies/And the holes on my frayed socks that i hide between my toes