14 Quotes About Writing from John Green

Jason Wallis
Jason Wallis / Jason Wallis

John Green’s led a remarkable life, and he’s never shied away from offering advice to aspiring scribes and storytellers of all ages. Here are fourteen of his best pointers.

1. On Becoming a Writer

“I really think that reading is just as important as writing when you’re trying to be a writer because it’s the only apprenticeship we have, it’s the only way of learning how to write a story.”

— From the first year of the Brotherhood 2.0 project.

2. On Being a Novelist

“We’re professional worriers. You’re constantly imagining things that could go wrong and then writing about them.”

— To fellow novelist Craig Ferguson on The Late Late Show.

3. On Dealing With Writer’s Block

“I just give myself permission to suck. I delete about 90 percent of my first drafts … 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 percent 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 in [response] to writers’ block: ‘Coal miners don’t get coal miners’ block.’”

— From his official FAQ page.

4. On Writing About the Dead

“You do not immortalize the lost by writing about them. Language buries, but it does not resurrect.”

— From The Fault In Our Stars.

5. On Dialogue

“[My] interest as a writer is not in reflecting actual human speech, which, of course, does not occur in sentences and is totally undiagrammable…My interest is in trying to reflect the reality of experience—how we feel when we talk to each other, how we feel when we’re engaging with questions that interest us.”

From an interview with The Atlantic.

6. On Symbolism

“[This] is very important to remember when reading or writing or talking or whatever: You are never, ever choosing whether to use symbols. You are choosing which symbols to use.”

—From his Tumblr.

7. On Crafting Characters

“When I think about [characters], I like to think of them in their relationships to each other. In the same way, I think that’s how humans are ultimately defined. We are our relationships to one another. And a lot of what’s interesting about us happens in the context of other people.”

— Excerpt from Stephanie Carmichael’s article on John for her blog, “Misprinted Pages.” 

8. On Writing & Storytelling

“Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who wanna tell you a story but don’t wanna make eye contact while telling it”

— From the video “Thoughts From Places: The Tour.”

9. On Writing & Politics

“Writing fiction is an inherently political activity because people—even imaginary ones—do not live in vacuums… From Twilight to Romeo and Juliet to The Little Mermaid, no work of the imagination is truly apolitical, because the world and our hopes for it are always part of our stories.” 

— Quote from John’s essay “Writers Need to Get Political” submitted to “The Daily Fig."

10. On Writing, Reading, & the Human Experience

“Writing, or at least good writing, is an outgrowth of that urge to use language to communicate complex ideas and experiences between people. And that’s true whether you’re reading Shakespeare or bad vampire fiction—reading is always an act of empathy. It’s always an imagining of what it’s like to be someone else.”

— From the first episode of “Crash Course: English Literature."

11. On Waxing Nostalgic

“Nostalgia is inevitably a yearning for a past that never existed and when I’m writing, there are no bees to sting me out of my sentimentality. For me at least, fiction is the only way I can even begin to twist my lying memories into something true.”

— Closing thoughts from John’s video “Looking for Alaska at My High School.”

12. On Writing About People with Serious Illnesses in The Fault in Our Stars

“One of the pitfalls about writing about illness is that it is very easy to imagine people with cancer as either these wise-beyond-their-years creatures or these sad-eyed tragic people. And the truth is, people living with cancer are very much like people who are not living with cancer. They’re every bit as funny and complex and diverse as anyone else.”

— From an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.

13. On Conclusions

“I never liked writing concluding paragraphs to papers—where you just repeat what you’ve already said with phrases like ‘In summation’, and ‘To conclude’.”

— From Looking for Alaska.

14. On How Books Belong to Their Readers

“What I eventually realized is that the real business of books is not done by awards committees or people who turn trees into paper or editors or agents or even writers. We’re all just facilitators. The real business is done by readers.”

— From John’s celebratory video commemorating the (almost) fifth-year anniversary of his first novel winning The Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

* * *

Today is John Green Day on mental_floss! See all our John Green stories here.