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.

{ 324 comments… read them below or add one }

Wyanita T September 28, 2014 at 6:05 am

Which is the best way to introduce your main character when you have started a story?

If you could make any fruit talk what fruit would you choose?

If you could have pet food what would it be?

Do you have imaginary friends?

Reply

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Madison September 30, 2014 at 10:44 pm

Hi John!
I often wonder what the best way to contact you is, and so far I have not by snail mail. This seems like an unlikely possibility that you’d respond to, but one can hope and try, that is certain. I’ve contacted you via tumblr and I’ll again repeat that maybe Im completely cliche in proposing this, but I have a profound story to my name despite my age that I have a strong desire to spread. I feel you’d tell me I have the talent and desire to carry this out myself, but you have such a truly brilliant mind and writing process that it’d be the greatest honor for me if you were just to hear my story out. I have hope for this in the respect that TFiOS was inspired by a lovely girl with cancer. Although she came upon you in much different way, I still hope. I’m honestly ready to be like Hazel and send letters (or emails, etc.) And then one miraculous day months later, maybe I’ll get a response.
Alright, I’ve rambled enough. By the way, can you tell I’m trying so hard to sound intelligent?

Yours truly,

Madison

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Matilde Groot October 1, 2014 at 9:01 am

What other books have you written except for the fault in our stars?

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Matilde Groot October 1, 2014 at 9:08 am

Have you won any awards, which ones?
Yours Truly,
Matilde

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Michaela Rush October 5, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Hey John,
My question is, how do you pace your writing so well? I ask because while I write stories, I feel that they are too short because I am attempting to keep my potential readers interested.

Thank you so much!!

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Erin Alyssa October 14, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Hey John!

You are such an inspiration to me and though you’ve probably heard these questions countless times, I must ask:

Will you please consider writing ‘An Imperial Affliction’?

Also, do you have any tips, direction or help for me as a young writer. (and by young, I mean 14 years old young)

I know I’m very young, but do you think that it is possible for someone at my age, probably a year older, to publish a book? do you suggest not to?

otherwise, I wanted to say that you are amazing, I have tried to conact you through instagram direct message and am sending a snail mail letter. Do you have a suggestion on how to contact you?

You have shaped my life through your stories.

Always,
Erin Alyssa

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Janitor November 2, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Hi Erin Alyssa,

I’m not John Green but I am 12 and I published a book last year. I am publishing another book this year. So ya just to help you decide

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lee October 17, 2014 at 8:59 am

what are your insperations

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Manish October 30, 2014 at 6:54 am

Hi John,
Accidentally and merrily I’ve read The Book Thief by Markus right after The Fault In Our Stars. The voice of Liesel Meminger and Hazel Grace in my head were astonishingly similar. They are like this same soul in different times and places. My question: If you find a character from a book or a movie very interesting, like it inspires you to do things, as a writer how do you go about it?

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Janitor November 2, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Why do you write? What is your purpose for writing?

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Dominika November 7, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Dear John,
I’m Dominika and I’m from Poland. At the beginning I want to apologize for my English.
You are my master and ‘Looking for Alaska’ is the best novel I have ever read. Alaska is amazing. I hate you because you killed her and I love you because you showed true life in this story!
Thank you very much!
In the end I have a request : can you sent me your autograph. It’s really important for me.
Best wishes
Dominika

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MANDY November 9, 2014 at 4:49 pm

I read “The Fault in our Stars” and it was wonderful,I watched the movie first and loved it….. What inspired you to write that?

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Agnes November 11, 2014 at 6:07 am

Hello John Green,

Right now I’m choosing you as my authors study and I would like to know what kind the themes do you like the write about because so far I’ve read TFIOS, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns and (currently reading) Abundance of Katherines. Do you like writing love stories mostly?

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asdfghjkl November 11, 2014 at 7:52 pm

What or who were your inspirations while writing your books, if any?

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adolescent November 12, 2014 at 10:13 am

Disclaimer: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This is just my opinion.

After reading your article, I feel even more strongly about writing panels like Wattpad having major down slides. Even though websites like that have positive effects like promoting writing to the internet and giving adolescents and adults good opportunities to share their stories with the world, for free, it isn’t all that good as the content is often poor as drafts and change of ideas are forgotten. Wattpad is great, as authors get to connect with readers through votes, comments, and “read” counts. However, down slides exist. Take the thing about you writing many drafts of your story and thinking of the titles and ideas along the way. On Wattpad, a title has to be thought of immediately and stories are “updated” which means readers may have a problem if a change in plot ideas were to occur. Drafts are often what is submitted to readers, limiting the quality. Thus, the books on Wattpad will definitely not be as good of quality as those of yours. This is because having the opportunity many drafts is not allowed when users already “publish” the books before completion. Even though the authors there are really great, with great ideas and writing, Wattpad limits their potential by making them have less drafts and having to often post their first 10 drafts. What do you have to say to places like Wattpad, where they contradict the writing world in which you confide in? Do you feel that writers on writing panels like Wattpad should finish their book before publishing, even though author-rader connection is enlightened? Which is more important: Author-reader connection or book quality on Wattpad?

P.S. This is just my opinion, please do not take this too seriously or get mad at me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter that I place very close to my heart.

Reply

adolescent November 12, 2014 at 10:14 am

Disclaimer: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This is just my opinion.

After reading your article, I feel even more strongly about writing panels like Wattpad having major down slides that condridict your writing style. Even though websites like that have positive effects like promoting writing to the internet and giving adolescents and adults good opportunities to share their stories with the world, for free, it isn’t all that good as the content is often poor as drafts and change of ideas are forgotten. Wattpad is great, as authors get to connect with readers through votes, comments, and “read” counts. However, down slides exist. Take the thing about you writing many drafts of your story and thinking of the titles and ideas along the way. On Wattpad, a title has to be thought of immediately and stories are “updated” which means readers may have a problem if a change in plot ideas were to occur. Drafts are often what is submitted to readers, limiting the quality. Thus, the books on Wattpad will definitely not be as good of quality as those of yours. This is because having the opportunity many drafts is not allowed when users already “publish” the books before completion. Even though the authors there are really great, with great ideas and writing, Wattpad limits their potential by making them have less drafts and having to often post their first 10 drafts. What do you have to say to places like Wattpad, where they contradict the writing world in which you confide in? Do you feel that writers on writing panels like Wattpad should finish their book before publishing, even though author-reader connection is enlightened? Which is more important: Author-reader connection or book quality on Wattpad? Is your writing style, the one with numerous drafts and much time put into better or the Wattpad style is better?

P.S. This is just my opinion, please do not take this too seriously or get mad at me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter that I place very close to my heart.

Reply

Ella November 12, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Hi!
I am doing a research project on you and I would like to know… what inspired you to be an author? Why did you decide to do this as your career? How do you write these stories that require so much emotion? I find it truly magnificent.
-Ella

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Nora November 15, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Hi John,
You mentioned above that you have a lot of other jobs besides writing. I’m very interested in what that list might include. I’m in high school now and writing is something I enjoy. As I get older, and as questions about my future are beginning to surface, I’m forced to start thinking about what I will do to make money. Of course I want to continue writing, and I want that to be one of my main focuses, but I’m curious as to what might make me enough money to get by. I would love to hear about what you did early on in your adult life, and how you continued to write even when your novels were not complete.

You are a huge inspiration to me. Hearing from you would be absolutely wonderful. I hope all is well with you and your family. I’m also very excited for the Paper Towns movie. Good luck with that project, and any other projects in the future. I adore your work!

- Nora

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Jessica Purdom November 24, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Did anything from your childhood inspire you? Schools, parents, friends, family, etc.? And also how did Indian Springs inspire Looking for Alaska?

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