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.

{ 452 comments… read them below or add one }

Guru les privat Bekasi October 18, 2015 at 10:39 pm

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Dorothy November 23, 2015 at 10:24 pm

Love your writing. I am very young and have been trying to write YA for a year now and every draft i write i seem to ease. i come up with these great ideas, but i can’t seem to order my thoughts into a actual story i could be proud of. my stars don’t seem to aline. would you mind giving a teenage writer some tips.

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Akshat Thakur October 22, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Dear Mr. Green,

I am a big fan of your work. I recently published my first book, Kill Your Heroes, and am currently working on my second one.

I just wanted to let you know how much I love your work, and that you are truly a genius.

P.S. Your Will Grayson is the closest thing to me as possible.

-Akshat Thakur.

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Kay January 11, 2016 at 3:20 am

Dear Akshat,

I wanted to let you know I bought and read your book it took a little while for it to get to me. But I’m extremely happy with it. The way you wrote Adam is amazing!

Will the second book your write be one just like “Kill your heroes” ?

- Kay

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Akshat Thakur June 15, 2016 at 11:33 am

Wow, I’m so happy that you liked it. I really am.

And yes, but it’s much more refined, and a lot darker.

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Akshat Thakur June 15, 2016 at 11:36 am

Also, I’m sorry for the VERY late reply. I didn’t get any notifications, heh. You can add me on facebook, I’d love for us to talk!

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Maria P. October 23, 2015 at 8:57 pm

How long did it take you to write Paper Towns? Have you ever thought of writing the book from Margo’s perspective?

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TyRee October 29, 2015 at 1:19 pm

what is your inspiration or you connection with the book Looking For Alaska?

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Abigail Boylen November 1, 2015 at 2:58 pm

I’m a huge fan of TFIOS, Paper Towns, and Looking for Alaska. I have been trying to write a YA novel for years and was wondering if you could possibly recommend some tips for me. I will take any advice you give and if you recommend reading, I’d love to.

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Madison November 3, 2015 at 4:14 am

John Green,
I have recently read The Fault In Our Stars and Looking For Alaska (I am planning to read all of your books). Anyway I was wondering if you have based any of your characters off of people you know?

P.S your books are amazing

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Savanna November 9, 2015 at 11:49 am

What inspired you to start writing?

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Soumya November 14, 2015 at 1:54 am

um..I would like you, Mr. John Green to know what I have prepared for you. I really wish for you to read it. And I cannot post it on this website. I know that many people have written letters and stuff to you, but do you mind if I could get your or your assistant’s email address? Please.. its my wish to make you read it and also to meet you one day. I really am a very big fan of your books, particularly The Fault In Our Stars. It has a very deep meaning to me. Could I please get another way to connect to you?

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Jada November 20, 2015 at 4:42 pm

Hi Soumya
You can get the contact info for John Green here:

http://johngreenbooks.com/bio-contact/the-contact-page/

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abbygale November 14, 2015 at 10:28 am

will you be writing anymore books?

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Sama November 16, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Why did you mostly study the religion Islam?

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Kristina Bauer November 24, 2015 at 9:44 am

Hi there!

Big fan of ‘The Fault In Our Stars.’ Just wanted to ask if you ever get this feeling, like an exciting feeling when you’re writing a book then all of a sudden you stop because you don’t know how to keep going but you have ideas and plans for the next chapters a head. But you just don’t know how to continue on. If you know what I mean how do you go about this feeling and keep writing until you get to that point where you want in your book?

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Lindsey November 30, 2015 at 8:04 pm

Hi, so I have an idea for a story but I just don’t know how to start it any advice?

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Carley December 7, 2015 at 4:55 pm

John,
I love your work and you have inspired me greatly. Currently, I am doing a research project on you and your life, and I noticed a typo in one of your answers. I really don’t mean to sound like an ass hole, I really do love you. Although, in your research question, although is spelled wrong as atlough. I just wanted to point that out to you, I understand that as an amazing writer you can make a few mistakes.

Have a wonderful day and please publish another book soon.

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Eden December 27, 2015 at 1:11 pm

Hey John!

I’m a college student and still obsessed with your books and your talent. I’ve always aspired to write a novel of my own, and I have the ideas and passion, but I really don’t know how to physically begin.

Of course the logical move was to ask you how you began.

In other words, do you handwrite your books at first? Do you use a specific ‘novel-writing’ software that’s not Word? Is it even possible to write a novel by only dedicating my (extraordinarily little) spare time to it?

THANK YOU, JOHN.

Also: Happy New Year.

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Pardis Rahimi January 8, 2016 at 5:59 am

hello, my name is Pardis. I am a 14 y/o girl from Iran and I’ve read your books. they’re great. literally.
I really like writing and I hope I can publish my own book in the future but I have a huge problem; I never, ever finish a book. either its a new idea that seems better or that I’m no longer interested in the plot, I leave the story halfway through or even delete it. I was wondering if you have the same problem and how you solve it?

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online judi January 16, 2016 at 12:57 pm

Pretty! This has been an incredibly wonderful post. Thank you for supplying these details.

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rachel January 19, 2016 at 12:19 pm

hey I am doing a research project about john green and I need information

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Yereni February 3, 2016 at 11:21 am

Hey i was trying to find out why in your book summaries and book it say things like (127 before.3)? what is the significance

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brittneycastner February 4, 2016 at 11:04 am

what inspired you to be a writer

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Alyssa February 6, 2016 at 7:42 pm

I love to write, and lately I’ve been talking to others who feel the same way. We are wondering though, if you ever feel self-conscious about your stories after writing them. We are wondering because we often do, we’ll write something and then reread it and not feel very well about it. So we were wondering if that feeling goes away after having success, or if that little nagging voice in the back our heads will stay there. Is it something you get past, or just something you can’t get rid of and have to work through?

Thank you

Also, I love your writing and the amount of detail you put into it. I aspire to be able to communicate emotions through writing as well as you do.

Have a wonderful day.

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Vici February 14, 2016 at 11:01 am

Are you currently writing on a new book?

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Josh Smith February 18, 2016 at 9:35 pm

I love how well you can describe scenes in your books, and I would appreciate it if you could tell me how I could perfect my own ability in describing scenes.

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sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

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Nicole April 27, 2016 at 9:21 am

Will you describe your favorite person?

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sam April 27, 2016 at 9:36 am
Rōnin May 9, 2016 at 4:09 am

Hey man, I am curious..
What font do you mostly use for your books? And I’m not talking about the cover fonts.

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Gleb May 20, 2016 at 5:58 am

Van Huten, character from «The fault in our stars», got such surname “in honor” of Van Huten, what near 100 years ago paid many to man got death sentence, in order to say before execution, under gallows (or before electrocution, I didn’t remember) “DRINK ONLY COCOA VAN HUTEN!!!” ???? Had you want, so as we decided, what is a man who only want make a money even use dying peoples??? (You only on the last pages told, what he also lost daughter)???

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JP May 27, 2016 at 8:28 pm

I really love your style and you’re my inspiration to write amazing stories.

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Jordy June 5, 2016 at 9:01 pm

Hello,

I was just wondering how you come up with your character names?

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Erin June 16, 2016 at 3:46 pm

Do you think that through your books you can/have helped people become more empathetic towards others?

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Tiana July 11, 2016 at 10:50 pm

You are my idol. I love all of your books, especially Looking for Alaska and Papertowns. I watch your Youtube channels and I have so many thing I would love to discuss with you in person, but I guess internet questions will have to do. I am 15 and I am trying to write a book right now, somewhat with the same concepts that you commonly explore. I am having a lot of trouble with it. I will have some days where I write 25 pages and some days where I edit and edit and edit, but then there will be months where I can’t write at all because I am out of ideas or have too many ideas and feel like I’ll never get them all down so I don’t want to even bother trying, and eventually I just want to get it done so that I can write down the ending that am thinking of at that moment and feel a sense of accomplishment. And when I come back to them after three months, I don’t like any of it so I start all over again. I have tried to write about 20 books so far, some 150 pages, some stuck at 30, and haven’t been able to finish any. The one I am working on right now is really special to me because I have finally got all my thoughts about the world and everything that I’ve been trying to find a way to say for years now, and I really don’t want it to end up like the others. Do you have any advice for me or other people like me?

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