Ideas and Inspiration Questions

Q. What is your writing process?
A. I usually get up in the morning and write for four hours, and then I eat lunch, and then in the afternoon I do web and youtube and businessy stuff for five hours. My work day is eight AM to six PM with an hour for lunch. I don’t always stick to this schedule–I travel a lot and some days I have to do non-writing stuff all day. But I am pretty good about the schedule.

Q. How do you deal with writers’ block?
A. I just give myself permission to suck. I delete about 90% of my first drafts (the only exception to this rule so far has been Will Grayson, Will Grayson) so it doesn’t really matter much if on a particular day I write beautiful and brilliant prose that will stick in the minds of my readers forever, because there’s a 90% chance I’m just gonna delete whatever I write anyway. I find this hugely liberating.
I also like to remind myself of something my dad said to me once in re. writers’ block: “Coal miners don’t get coal miners’ block.”

Q. Where do you get your ideas for your books?
A. Well, my books don’t have capital-i Ideas, really. I don’t have ideas that hit like a ton of bricks out of nowhere, like BAM! Write a book about a wizard school! Or, Bam! Vampires in Suburbia! The ideas for my books come from lower case-i ideas. Looking for Alaska began, really, in thinking about whether there was meaning to suffering, and how one can reconcile one’s self to a world where suffering is so unjustly distributed. Paper Towns began with thinking about our fascination with manic pixie dream girls and our relentless misimagining of each other. Then little ideas will come along and link up to other little ideas and then in a few short years, I have a book. I would love to have a high-concept book idea fall out of the sky and hit me one day, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Q. How do you feel about your books after you’re done writing them?
A. It varies. I am usually pretty disappointed with the book when I finally turn in the last draft and hear that I can’t revise it any further. I worry a lot that no one will like it and that I’ve failed and that I haven’t lived up to the story. Then when it comes out there’s a weird adjustment and I find myself really protective of the book and increasingly proud of it. Then after a while it settles into ambivalence for me, to be totally honest. I still feel proud of the books I’ve written, but they also feel very *finished* to me. They belong to their readers now, which is a great thing–because the books are more powerful in the hands of my readers than they could ever be in my hands.

Q. Have you ever felt, midway through a book, that you didn’t have any more ideas and you wouldn’t be able to finish writing it?
A. Oh yeah all the time. And sometimes I don’t finish the book–or at least not for a long time. That’s always a bit depressing, but I don’t think it’s wasted time–even if you end up not finishing the story. You were learning something as a writer that you needed to learn. The difficult thing is figuring out when a story really SHOULD be abandoned, and when it’s just the mid-story blues–which I think happens to every book.

Q. When did you know you wanted to write?
A. I knew I liked writing from the time I was very young, so I don’t think I ever really decided to write. I just kinda kept writing, even when I didn’t show much potential. I never thought that I would be able to write for a living or anything, and I still don’t feel comfortable saying that, like, writing is my job. (And in many ways it isn’t. I have several jobs.)

Q.  How do you write young adult novels when you are not an adolescent yourself?

A. Well, it’s a lot easier than writing about, like, vampires, because I used to be an adolescent. But in truth all fiction is an attempt at empathy: When I write, I’m trying to imagine what it’s like to be someone else more than I’m trying to express what it’s like to be me. So in that sense, it’s very helpful for me to write from the perspectives of characters who are at least a little different from me. Of course, I’m a writer of limited talents, and I don’t feel that I can stray too far from myself.

Q. Are you currently working on a novel?
A. Yes, I am always working on a novel, although I guess it depends on how you define “working” and “on.” I’ve become very superstitious, however, about saying more than that, because while I was writing the book that became The Fault in Our Stars, I promised many different stories–a zombie apocalypse novel, a novel about kids stranded on a desert island–and then delivered a very different book. So you’ll have to trust me that I’m working.

Q.  Did you study writing in school?
A. To an extent. I don’t have an MFA or anything, but I did take creative writing classes in high school and I took a hugely helpful fiction writing class at Kenyon with P. F. Kluge. If it hadn’t been for that class, I don’t think I would’ve ever written a book.
I also received much training after I graduated from college from my mentor, Ilene Cooper, and from many other writers and editors at Booklist.

Q.  Do you ever wake up in the morning and dread writing?
A. No, not that I can remember. I often get mad at myself because I’m writing poorly, or worry that I’ll never write another book, or feel frustrated because I’m up against the limits of my talents, but I never dread writing. So I often feel that I’m not up to the task, but I never dread it.

Q.  Do you ever think about writing an “adult book”?
A.  Not really. I don’t find adults very interesting, to be honest with you.

Q. Do you research your ideas beforehand (such as cancer in TFIOS)?
A. Well, I spent about a decade writing the story that eventually became The Fault in Our Stars, and I definitely did a lot of research along the way. I talked to a lot of cancer survivors and their families, and I also read a lot about the disease itself and its treatments. I really enjoy research, atlhough in the case of TFiOS it was perhaps not great for my hypochondria.

Q.  How many drafts do you do?
A. That really depends on how you define “draft.” I believe that all writing is rewriting–even when you’re writing something down for the first time, it’s still an act of translation in a way because you’re trying to use text to bring life to this thing that exists in your mind. And I’m a big believer in revision: I almost always delete most of my first drafts (often as much as 90%). But there are many mini-drafts along the way, so it’s hard to talk about the process quantitatively. I do try to save the file with a different name each time I’ve made some dramatic changes I fear I might later regret, so that’s some measure, maybe, of how many drafts there are. The final copy of Katherines on my hard drive is called aok284; the final copy of TFiOS is called okay192.

Q. Do you talk about what you’re working on with your editor or wife?
A. Yes, both. I’ve been working with my editor and publishing, Julie Strauss-Gabel, for more than a decade now, and I often show her scraps and chapters and excerpts and all variety of unfinished things. But when I get on a roll, she usually doesn’t hear from me for a while, because I like to send her at least something of a finished manuscript once we agree that I’m on the right track.
I also read a lot to my wife, Sarah, who has informed and shaped all my books in uncountable ways. (Many of the most quoted lines in books are actually Sarah’s, and in general our conversations about art and meaning and everything else are hugely important to me.)

Q. What books would you recommend for a young adult?
A. There are so many. The Book Thief. How I Live Now. The First Part Last. Feed. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Story of a Girl. White Cat (and sequels). Every Day.
I could go on for weeks. Let me steer you toward one book, though, that partly inspired An Imperial Affliction, the nonexistent novel I write about in The Fault in Our Stars. It’s called The Blood of the Lamb, and it’s by Peter de Vries, and although it is hardly read at all today, it is one of my favorite books ever.

More questions about ideas and inspiration and writing and whatnot? Leave them in comments.

{ 271 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa May 28, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Do you purposely leave vagueness at the end of your books, leaving a reader to imagine what will come next after the last page is turned?

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Stella Myers May 28, 2014 at 3:10 pm

You inspire me so much. I hope to become a great writer like you. Paper Towns literally changed my life. Thank you for just existing and making me have to urge to force mysled into writing.

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Kylee Huggins May 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm

If someone were to propose an idea for you to write about would you consider it?

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Lizette June 1, 2014 at 8:13 pm

Thanks for your marvelous posting! I seriously enjoyed reading it,
you may be a great author. I will ensure that I bookmark your blog and will eventually come back sometime soon. I want to encourage continue your great writing,
have a nice holiday weekend!

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hannah June 2, 2014 at 6:14 pm

What inspired you to write Looking For Alaska?

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hannah June 2, 2014 at 6:15 pm

What influenced you in your early life to become a writer?

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Andrea June 6, 2014 at 8:38 pm

How have you expanded your vocabulary? I notice it’s really really good.
Advice on dialogue and inner dialogue? How about plot ideas?

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Adela June 7, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Hi, I log on to your blogs on a regular basis. Your humoristic style is
witty, keep doing what you’re doing!

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Lizzy June 8, 2014 at 12:51 pm

If I were to write you a letter via snail mail, how would I know you read it? And or do you read them? And I realize this doesn’t make much sense to be in this category, but the nature of the letter I am crafting falls into this category I believe.

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Sylvia June 8, 2014 at 11:46 pm

Hi Mr. Green,
I am an aspiring writer, but I can never bring myself to finish a book. My mind over thinks everything to the extent that everything I write is crappy after the first few chapters. Do you have any tips?

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Drew June 11, 2014 at 11:09 am

Mr. Green,
I write poetry and once in a while a short story here and there. I’ve always wanted to write a novel and to one day become a novelist, but have no idea where to start. Ideas arise but I have little to no idea how to elaborate on them to the extent of a novel. I absolutley loved The Fault In Our Stars and was captivated by not only the heart-wrenching cancer story, but also by the gripping and compelling love story that caused my eyes to tear and lips to quiver. I would love to know more about how to develop a story and how you go about introducing details that make the story what it is. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Gia June 12, 2014 at 5:25 am

Dear John Green,
I’ve never actually written to an author before, so yeah. Here goes nothing. I have finished reading all of your books, the last one being tfios, which I just finished some minutes ago (I beginned reading this morning and finished exactly at 4:41 a.m. because it was THAT good). Before I ask my question, I want to thank you for making the type of books that made me love reading again. I use to be a bibliophile, reading from dusk to dawn. All the books in the YA section in the library at my university are filled with all cheesy romance to dyspotian novels. I lost that crave to read during my high school years and started writing books that I wanted to read, but problem that I’m having is that writing is becoming harder for me year by year. Before I shot out plots faster than I could blink, but now that I’m in college its becoming increasingly harder to write. And I don’the know. Nothings changed, other than my home address. I’m in college (sophomore), majoring in English, and I’m focusing on two books that I wrote back in my junior of high school. SO here are my questions: (1) Did you ever have like an outline or something that guided you on what you were going to write in a chapter? Or did you just go with it word by word? (2) I consider myself unexperience sometimes when it comes to writing, especially when I read amazing works like yours. What has helped you with your writing process? I have a hard time getting what I want to write out onto paper. My remedy whenever I get stuck with certain parts is reading. I read a lot, sometimes more than I study. It’s sad. (3) Most of my favorite books are written by authors who aren’t particular a “young adult” their selves. I did meet Christopher Paolini, writer of Eargon. We talked for a good length of time. What he told me that struck out to me was that he said being homeschooled helped him out a lot with his writing process. He said he wasn’t distracted by the social life of public schooling, which he believed is the reason for his maturity and better understanding towards writing. I have met older authors who have said to me, “if I would have known all the things I know now…” (the endings differ from author to author). I hear this a lot, from my parents, teachers, & other authors. I don’t ever want to say this. I’ve been writing fiction since I read Tuck Everlasting in 4th grade. That freaking book changed me life. Can young adults, like myself, be able to capture the voice of…ourselves? (4) What tips do suggest for improving writing? I’ve attended non-school related writing classes in my spare time, but they only cover the basics like no adverbs! No long sentences! No this or that! I just want to freaking write and not have a rubric to adbide by. And the last thing I want to do is pause and take a break (which I have done before and those breaks turn from a two week break to an a year break). And I’m nowhere close to taking to my English major classes, thanks to the loads of general courses I have to take. What I’m asking I guess is how do you make the magic happen? Do you find writing to be difficult all the time or does it have its easy moments? Because I constantly find myself deleting draft after draft after draft…

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short hairstyles For women June 12, 2014 at 4:10 am

Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through
this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this.
I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have
a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

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Mike June 14, 2014 at 11:21 pm

Hey John,
I am a young aspiring writer and I was hoping you could answer a question about your writing process. I am more of a Spoken Word poet, but I just thought of a book idea that I am trying to piece together now and need some advice. I think that my problem is that I want the entire story to be mapped out before I begin writing. So my question is: When you have a story in mind, do you sit down and chart out the framework of a novel before you write, or do you just write and wait for ideas to flow?
Thanks for reading and I would really appreciate the advice. Also, thank you for writing The Fault in Our Stars because it gave me a jolt of inspiration to try my hand at a novel myself.
Mike T

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Vanja June 17, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Yo Green, sup?
First I would just like to say sorry for this long explanation where I try to ask my actually really simple question. How can you stay true to your characters and the story? So if you don’t feel like reading it all don’t. But if you do, then that is really nice of you.

This person once wrote a bunch of things. But the one thing that he wrote about that affected me was that when you grow up you always learn to be true. To always tell the truth. And he talked about the dilemma when you write fiction. Because how can you tell the truth when you write when you write about leaving your husband, when you never actually have done that? That’s understandable. Because how can you tell the truth when you in real life never ever would have thought about that. You always need to stay true to your characters, because if the character hates Justin Bieber, he/she would never buy a Justin Bieber CD. It’s like you have to understand your characters on a much deeper level than you could ever imagine. Far more beyond the fact that your character never would buy a Justin Bieber CD. And the guy kept on saying how you couldn’t do that without actually having to experience those things. And how you can pray too God that he will let you suffer so your writing doesn’t. First I thought this was stupid. But I understand. Because how can you tell the truth if you don’t actually know how it feels. But then again when you make this character, with a life story, you have never experience, I don’t think you have to experience al those things. I think you really start to feel with the person, thinks the way he/she (and lets be real it) does and just really get into it. You don’t have to know how it feels exactly, but you can feel with the character. You can try to understand.

I read the article of his and thought “What the fudge”. Then my friend explained to me how she doesn’t think you have to experience all this, but you have to feel with the characters. Like really go in to their thoughts. And I understand that, and I try to understand my characters. But on a much lighter level you know. Like that I would never make my character to buy a Justin Bieber CD. But I’ve never had any like really dark and hard writing sessions. Like I really had to go deep inside myself to do it. And this was what my friend talked about, you having to step outside your comfort zone to really just understand and feel your character.

Then. What if you comfort zone is like crazy and you feel you can write about anything, without getting into the dark side? It’s like you already understand your character good enough. But then again, how would you know if you really never been there. But how could you know when you don’t have any limits?

So how can I be true to my characters without exploring the dark side? How do I find this dark side? Do I need to? Because how can writing about your character getting raped make you feel so much connected and make you understand your character so much more than before? (Which is by the way what my friend did) Because I feel like if you can’t understand your character from the beginning. To understand the reason he/she/it is the way he/she/it is and the choices he/she/it makes, then you just don’t understand your character at all.

So is this man right? Do I have to experience the things I write about if I want to stay true to my characters? And is my friend right about going to the dark side and write about horrible stuff to really connect? Because I want to stay true to my characters, but how can I do this?

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Will June 20, 2014 at 1:10 am

I know probably every one of the comments you read everyday are like this so I won’t waste your time, Great job with your all of your books, you really inspire me as a writer and I can’t wait to read what you have coming out next!

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http://deedsfromtheheart.org/DFTHWPBlog/?p=1281 June 21, 2014 at 9:41 am

I do trust all the ideas you’ve introduced for your post.
They’re very convincing and can certainly work.

Nonetheless, the posts are too short for beginners. May just
you please extend them a bit from subsequent time?
Thanks for the post.

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Millie Ho June 22, 2014 at 2:42 pm

I’m working on my first Young Adult novel, and can totally see why you delete 90% of your first draft.

It’s oddly liberating.

And adds 70,000 words I wouldn’t have written otherwise.

Keep up the great work, John.

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Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely return.

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Chelsea Triano June 26, 2014 at 10:40 pm

So I know you’ll never see this but maybe someone will so I’m going to write it anyway. I’ve read all of your books and each one left an imprint on my life. With each story came each message and with each message came a new perception of life. I myself am an aspiring writer (emphasis as aspiring as I am a fifteen year old living in the suburbs of NJ) and still hold onto the faith that I could somehow wind up somewhere with my passion because the lessons of your words have impressed that idea on me. If I ever had the opportunity to meet you, I don’t know how I would contain myself or my mouth, for I would most likely scream and cry and babble about the changes you’ve made on my life. I have extreme doubt that you will ever find or see this post, Mr Green, but if you happen to, it would be an incredible honor to have you check out my writing.

I post my poetry on Instagram, @thinkingforwords.

Again, I know you probably will never see this nor will you even know this comment exists, but I just wanted to share how much a person and their words can change someone’s life, because you most certainly changed mine.

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Katie June 27, 2014 at 9:09 pm

I have to say that I love and appreciate your humor when discussing the writing process. It’s good to know that great writers struggle just as much with drafting and ideas! I just finished TFIOS and can’t wait to read some more!

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Arti June 28, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Dear John,

It would be totally amazing if you re wrote the fault in our stars from Augustus Waters point of view. It would be amazing to delve into his life and how he had dealt and was dealing with cancer and how HE felt when he first saw Hazel, and to really just get an indepth insight into his mind as opposed to the perception of Gus from Hazels point of view. Btw you totally amaze me more and more each time with your literature everytime i read your books. Your a god send to the literary world. God Bless x

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Keelan July 12, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Hey John,

How does your writing for your novels differ from your writing for Crash Course?

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Fizzy July 13, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Dear John,

Do you think artists know the story behind every painting they paint? I’m having trouble here. You see I have these great story ideas. From the time I wake up to the time I lay staring at the ceiling all night. One by one these ideas just fly out keeping me on edge all the time. I feel as though if I don’t write them down I’ ve missed out on something great. I’m not a artist by any means but I can paint. Each story is so clearly painted in my head I believe it’s as real as day but I just can’t seem to bring this painting to the page to make it visible for everyone else. Which brings me to my main question? Do you think artists know the story they are going to paint before they paint it? Do they pick out the colors carefully making sure each one will be as vibrant as it is in their own specific vision? Or do they know that in fact no one will correctly depict their art as they had imagined so they just go with the flow and add in these essential little details as their story (painting) folds out. I know this story. I know what type of colors I want to use I just don’t know when and where to add them in. John I’m honest I haven’t read any of your books or seen the tfios movie but I have been recommended to read every book of yours by my friends. I’m going to read your books but I’m saving them. A artist wouldn’t get up in the middle of his painting to go look at some one else’s. However I feel that in this gallery your work is on high display so, although I haven’t seen your art I feel I can indeed ask your advice. How the hell did you manage to paint your work to where people not only fell in love but could grasp your picture?

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Annika Wögerbauer July 21, 2014 at 10:28 am

Do you think that, you will finish a new book in the next 3 years?
Your biggest fans Hanna and Key <3

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Andrew Shubin July 24, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Mr. Green,
You mentioned above that you “took a hugely helpful fiction writing class at Kenyon with P. F. Kluge”. I was wondering if you would be willing to pass on to an aspiring writer some of the most helpful concepts and principles you learned from said class.

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EJ July 25, 2014 at 11:04 am

Dear John Green

First of all, I would like to congratulate on the success of TFIOS. You gave this generation another perspective towards life. How I wish I could talk to you personally via email with my concept. I plan on making a novel but I’m having a hard time to write details about it. It might seem similar to the theme of TFIOS but I want to change it, that is why I’m hoping for your reply in my email.

EJ – Fan from the Philippines

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Frida Anine July 31, 2014 at 9:36 am

How did you become a writer? Like, did you just send a draft to a publisher or what?

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Dami August 1, 2014 at 8:01 am

What is your motivation towards being an author?

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