John Green

August 13, 2015

IAm John Green--Author of Paper Towns, Co-Creator of Crash Course, Vlogbrother, and Redditor. AMA (part 4 of 4)

Hi. I'm John Green. I write novels, including Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns, the latter of which has just been adapted into a movie that is in (some) theaters now.

I also co-created the vlogbrothers YouTube channel with my brother Hank and the educational video series Crash Course. We also have a podcast where you can find terrible advice called Dear Hank and John.

Hank and I also run the Project for Awesome, an annual charity event in our community. My most important work, however, is my family.

Just kidding. My most important work is sponsoring the fourth-tier English football club AFC Wimbledon.

I promised to do 4 AMAs in the past four months (find previous ones here, here, and here. I'm 11 days late on this one but belatedly keeping my promise. AMA.


EDIT: Thanks as always for the excellent questions and conversation, reddit. DFTBA!

How do you manage your anxiety disorder as well as doing all of this press stuff? Sounds like my worst nightmare!

(Also Hi! Long time nerdfighter!!)

In a word: Poorly.

(I have OCD and a lot of problems with anxiety.) So I've known that I have this mental illness for a long time, and I've had a lot of therapy and learned a lot of strategies for dealing with my illness. I know the benefits of exercise and meditation and medication and CBT strategies and etc.

And I try to treat my mental illness the way you would any chronic illness, and I'm very lucky that in general it's very manageable. But it's hard to describe just how extreme and overwhelming press junkets are. (I mean, I realize these are the first-worldiest problems possible; I'm just trying to be honest about my experience.)

But I was very lucky to have Nat Wolff with me almost all the time. Nat is a very close friend of mine, and I also trust him a lot. Whenever I got overwhelmed, he would take most of that interview, or he would find ways to distract me. ("Try to get the word 'Arkansas' into this interview," for instance.)

But there were a few moments when panic just really took hold of me. Nat and I always joke about this one time in Brazil when I literally lost consciousness for a few seconds (or at least awareness) and asked for a question to be repeated and then said in a small voice, "I'm sorry but I'm having a panic attack," and then Nat answered the question for me. There were a few moments like that, but mostly I was able to get through it.

My significant other has developed extreme anxiety within the past year, and his unwillingness to get help outside of me makes it difficult for me to know how to support him while maintaining my own sanity. In what ways have your wife, and people closest to you, been most helpful and supportive with regard to your anxiety?

Honestly the most helpful thing someone who loved me ever said was, "I am not a professional. I cannot make this better. Look at the science. All the studies show the way to manage this is with medication, exercise, and therapy. You have to go to the doctor. I will help you get to the doctor, but you have to go."

Do you have intrusive thoughts?

I do.

Can I ask what your intrusive thoughts are like? I have OCD too, and I don't know if I'm having intrusive thoughts or not. They really scare me sometimes because they're about violent things that I would never do, but I can't stop picturing it or thinking about it.

Is that what yours are like? If so, how do you cope with it?

Sure, yeah. Mostly they're about physical illness--getting cancer, especially. And I'll become convinced that I have cancer (or heart failure or diabetes or yellow fever or whatever) and those thoughts become very intrusive and a subject of obsessive thought spirals.

It's common for intrusive thoughts to be able violence. Check out the wikipedia page for intrusive thoughts and also talk to your therapist. (My intrusive thoughts have been 10,000x better since I found a good medication regimen.)

What's the most important life advice you have ever received?

"Stop trying to show me how good a writer you are and just tell me a fucking story." -P F Kluge, my college writing professor

It definitely would be amazing, but I don't think John would be the right person to host that.


Oh right because of the D I got in high school Physics.

Will you be staring in another crash course series?

Probably, yes, but not for the rest of this year and possibly not next year. Right now my Crash Course energy is focused on trying to build curricular materials around the videos that we can release for free: worksheets and collections of primary sources and lesson plans and essays that can complement the videos and that sort of stuff.

We're trying to work much more closely with teachers to understand how they use Crash Course in their teaching and what we can do to make that experience richer for the students. Our long-term goal is to make lots and lots of materials available to students for free--not just videos but hopefully also textbooks or textbook-like learning tools.

Also I need to write another novel, and until I've finished at least a draft I don't want to take on the responsibility of hosting a Crash Course series. In the meantime, we've got great hosts and will have more in the coming year.

When i told my teacher about the American History ones she started to show a video at the start of class and then we were giving more in depth knowledge from her. So the videos were like a starter.

Yeah, that's our hope for how they can work in a classroom.

What's the most awkward run-in/experience you've had with a fan?

One time I was in Whole Foods with my 5-year-old son and a woman--in her late 20s, I would guess--started screaming really loudly from way down the aisle. She then ran to me and hugged me and Henry started crying because, you know, why was this screaming woman hugging Daddy? (Daddy was wondering the same thing.)

But usually people are really cool. I am genuinely happy to meet people who like stuff I make when I'm out in public. The only thing that's weird is when, instead of coming up and saying hi, they try to subtly take pictures with their phones or whatever, because then I feel like I am being surveilled. But some of my favorite conversations with fans have happened in, like, Target.

See, sometimes I do this because I don't want to disturb the celebrity. They've got their own lives and I figure they don't want to be disturbed. Are you saying I should interrupt celebrities instead?

I'm saying that if the choice is between interrupting a celebrity and following them around the grocery store while they shop, interrupt the celebrity.

When I happen across a celebrity in public, I notice the person and continue about my day without interrupting them, photographing them surreptitiously, or following them around. I think that is the best strategy, but if you're a fan and really want to meet someone, I personally am happy if people come up and say that.

They're probably just trying not to bother you. If I ever saw you or another person I admire in public, I'd be doing the very same thing. Oh, and I promise it has nothing to do with my job in the CIA....

All the time I thought I was slightly famous but in fact it was...THE CIA.

I know I'm not John, but I'm a writer that just graduated College, and I can tell you some thing I wish someone had told me before I started.

Doesn't matter what you major in. Find other writers and interact with them. Read their work. Submit your own work to publications, magazines, workshops, show it to other people. Get it out there, get it critiqued, evolve. Take classes on subjects you wouldn't be interested in normally. As John himself once said, "Study broadly, and without fear." Good luck :)

obligatory thank you for the gold edit. i really appreciate it

Yeah, this. This is better advice than I would've given.

What would you recommend to a person who currently works a 9-5 but who wants to break out into their own endeavors that aren't as reliable?

After college, I worked 9 to 5 for seven years before becoming a "full time writer," and even now I don't consider myself a real writer--I go to an office almost ever day to work on Crash Course, mental_floss video, and our other projects. So I still sorta have a 9 to 5 job.

I wrote at night and on the weekends through my first two novels. It was a sacrifice (although less so for me because I never really had THAT much of a social life), but I also really enjoyed feeling like writing was something I did for fun, a process that I found joyful and not like "work." I think that's the reason I still "work" on other projects most of the day, so that writing can feel like a joyful escape from the prison of my consciousness.

One place you really want to visit?

To be entirely honest with you, I want to spend a year at home. Every day. I want to be with my kids and my wife and my friends. I want to walk in the woods by my house every day. I want to see the leaves turn and then fall and then return in the Spring, and I don't want to leave Indianapolis even for a few hours. And then maybe I will want to see another place. But right now I feel like I haven't seen nearly enough of Indianapolis.

Was there a moment that you and Hank knew you had 'made it' with the channel? Thanks for doing this, love your work :)

The moment I felt like we'd made it was August 1st, 2007. Hank and I had been making videos for 8 months, and we had around 200 YouTube subscribers. Our videos were regularly viewed by around 400 people, and we had a wonderful community and were doing cool projects together, but I was a little frustrated that we'd made over 100 videos and still hadn't reached a very wide audience.

And then Hank recorded a song about the last Harry Potter book called Accio Deathly Hallows, which got featured on YouTube, and suddenly there was this influx of new nerdfighters. Best of all, many of them came from the Harry Potter fan community, and they helped push nerdfighteria toward philanthropy and activism and in general toward awesomeness.

I remember waking up that morning and going to the front page of YouTube and seeing Hank and feeling momentarily confused and then calling Hank at 6 AM his time and shouting, "YOU'RE ON THE FRONT PAGE OF YOUTUBE! YOU GOT FEATURED!!!!"

By the end of that year, we only had around 9,000 subscribers (today we have over 10,000,000 across all channels), but the project felt sustainable.

Wait, you called him? Did you get punished for that?! And if not, is that statute of limitations more or less than 8 years?

Calls were okay. Only textual communication was illegal!

I was one of those initial 9,000 subscribers after hearing Accio Dealthy Hallows!!! I swear I spent almost an entire weekend just watching your videos back in high school. Those videos (and your novels) really shaped me in my vulnerable years, thank you so much. I probably never would have read Leaves of Grass if I hadn't read Paper Towns, and now Leaves of Grass is one of my favorite works! Thanks again :)

Oh God that was eight years ago and then you were in high school and now you are probably a proper adult. That's crazy.

I'm glad I could help get you to Whitman!

I had just started watching you guys before that song blew up - I remember seeing it on The Leaky Cauldron and being so proud! I'm a teen librarian now and everyone thinks you're cool, but when I was in college people thought I was weird for saying things like "nerdfighter" and debating the merits of the Evil Baby Orphanage. At least that Keep Calm & DFTBA poster that confused everyone in college is still relevant!

Your comment really made my day. It is weird that a thing that was shared by relatively few of us--and that felt extremely nerdy--has become so relatively mainstream. Anyway, I think you are cool for being a hipster vlogbrothers fan.

Proud to be one of those 9,000, John.

Thank you!

Wow, I can't believe Accio Deathly Hallows was that long ago. You're making me feel old, John!

Imagine if you were already kinda old when Accio Deathly Hallows came out. THAT'S HOW OLD I AM. :)

I remember that day. The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet featured it on their homepage. I checked it out and ended up spending 2 days 2 months or so watching the rest of your videos.

That's so awesome to hear. Thanks.

That was the day I signed on! I went back and watched all of the previous vlogbros videos afterwards and continued to watch for another 2 years


I'm just kidding. Thanks for watching all the videos and being part of that with us.

Accio Deathly Hallows was my introduction to Nerdfighteria, like many others. I think I eventually grew out of it, but I've made a lot of friends through it, thanks John and DFBTA

Thank YOU. Thanks for hanging out with us for a while. (The videos are good these days! You should check them out. Especially Hank's!)

How do you feel about Liverpool's chances in the Premier League this season, and will you be getting across to many games?

We're going to win the league.

Not sure how much I'll be able to travel to England during the season, but I hope to get to at least one game.

What do you anticipate for the future of Youtube? Thank you for all the amazing work you do!

I am terrible at predicting the future, but I think YouTube will continue for the foreseeable future to be the best place for independent video creators to monetize their work.

The challenge these days is that there is so much stuff on YouTube that it's very hard for new voices to break out, especially new voices that are very different from what we've come to see as "YouTube."

Everybody talks about Facebook video, but as Hank has pointed out, their video stats are pretty misleading. I think YouTube will be the destination for independently created online video. I also think the current CEO of YouTube has focused on the company on independent creators over, like, Hollywood studios--and that has been a very good decision. (Obviously I could not possibly be more biased on that front, though.)

I just got out of graduate school in May (MFA) and I feel like I might never write again. All I did was write for two years and I feel empty. I am terrified that my will to write is gone and might not come back. Have you ever felt this way, and if so, how did you get out of it?

I mean I haven't published a novel for three and a half years, so....yeah.

I feel this way all the time. People often use the phrase "literally the worst" colloquially, but I have on countless occasions felt that I am literally the worst writer on Earth, and that I am a complete fraud. I feel like a fraud all the time, and I still don't feel like I know how to write a novel, and at this point I doubt I ever will.

The only way through it for me is to take pleasure in the process of writing, or to find value in it. Even when I suck. Even when there's no way anything I'm writing will ever see the light of day. The act of trying to write for an audience must feel valuable in and of itself, or else I am doomed.

While I enjoy your books immensly, they do all tackle similar themes, issues, etc. Have you considered/are you planning to go in a completely new and different creative direction at any point?

Well, it depends on how you define "completely." I like writing about smart teenagers and don't really feel an urge to write about other types of people--that limits my writing, I guess, but it also gives me a world and language and parameters within my narrative imagination, which I find helpful.

But if you mean writing about issues around how young men romanticize and misimagine young women in destructive ways, I feel like I've said about that all that I can. And if you mean will I write about child prodigies again, probably not. And I am also probably done writing about grief, at least for a while.

I am evading your question because I don't really know the answer. I continue to be interested in the heightened experiences and language of adolescence. That's really all I can say with certainty at the moment.

Have you ever thought about a Story about a Genius level teenager who views himself better then everyone else and a classic know it all, only to get in a situation that's way over his head. I know that when I was a teenager I thought that I knew and understood most things and that I was invisible. You could even go really weird, almost H.B Lovecraft and make it about him dealing with a force he could never truly comprehend.

You should read An Abundance of Katherines. :)

I wonder if you are open to doing a Crash Course Religion or Crash Course Christianity considering your seminary background. I am a seminary graduate and love discussing religion in general and Christianity in particular and I would be very interested to learn more about your perspective. Do you think that might happen down the road?

I think a Crash Course World Religions series would be awesome, and it's something we'd like to do eventually. (As far as my own education goes, I mostly studied early Islamic history and know very little about Christian theology and history, even though I am a Christian.)

I see he is still mulling this one over.

Yes, it's like being asked to choose between my children. I think AFC Wimbledon is the most interesting and important sports phenomenon of the 21st century.

But pizza has been shaping history--not just sports but every facet of human endeavor--since the Columbian Exchange began. So I'm going to have to go with pizza.

Do you feel YouTube is becoming "too big?"

A lot of YouTubers who were the most watched and involved in the community at the beginning of the site have since expressed a disconnection with their audience, especially when it comes to VidCon (Michael Aranda for example in this video feels as though he no longer draws enough of a crowd to warrant his attendance as a feature).

Do you think it's a medium that is as creative and challenging to popular culture as it used to be?

No, I don't think YouTube is as revolutionary as it was five years ago. That happens online: Facebook transformed the way we interacted with each other, and then we integrated it into our experience and it ceased to be the force of change it had once been.

But I do think YouTube is still important, and that original content creators on YouTube--both those who draw big crowds and those who don't--are still important. The people at the center of the platform change, but the platform remains important.

To make an analogy that is only partly applicable: Fewer people listen to Pearl Jam than did in 1996, but music is still important, and also Pearl Jam is still important.

What do you think is holding vimeo back? They host their videos in higher quality and are very good to hear creators from a filmmaker prospective.

There's no community of viewers there. No interweaving of the viewer and creator communities like you have on YouTube. They overvalue technical quality and undervalue the quality of engagement.

What is your absolute favorite book? (Or at least one you highly recommend for highschool readers)

I don't have a favorite book. I have hundreds.

Right now I want every high school student to read Ta-Nehisi Coates' book Between the World and Me.

Have you given much thought to the fact that you're really in it for the long run? The proper long run of life. Your unborn grandchildren are going to grow up as "John Green's grandchildren", and people, however sparingly or not, will talk about you with enthusiasm after you're gone. Does this frighten you, as to the cultural impression you're knowingly or unknowingly having on the world?

EDIT: Grammar and word stuff.

I have not given that much thought.

I do think there's a chance that you're overstating my success / the length of cultural memory. Like, the bestselling American novel of 1945 was Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor, and I don't think Ms. Winsor's grandchildren think of themselves primarily as the descendent of the great Kathleen Winsor.

Art has a life just like anything else does, and I am ridiculously lucky that my work has been read and viewed by so many people. But I'm trying to work for and with people who are here now, and not for people of some distant time whose lives I cannot imagine. If I get lucky enough that something I do resonates with those hypothetical future people, that will be great. But I think it's far more likely that I will go the way of Kathleen Winsor, which is okay too.

Maybe I've been living under a rock, but the only time I hear this guy's name is when it pops up on Reddit. That doesn't mean his works aren't adored by those who read them, but he isn't a cultural icon either.

I also only notice my name when it pops up on reddit.

Some of your Youtuber friends (like Hannah Hart) have appeared on Epic Rap Battles of History. Would you and Hank ever consider doing the same? And if so, what character would you want to rap as?

Well, there are a few challenges here:

  1. Unlike most professional online video people, neither Hank nor I lives in Los Angeles.

  2. I cannot rap. Or sing.

So I am probably a bad candidate for ERB. Hank, however, would be awesome. He is a surprisingly good rapper.

You keep it clean in your videos and podcasts and public appearances, but I've always really wanted to know... How much do you and Hank curse?

I curse a lot more than Hank. I curse a lot. Hank also curses some, but I curse a lot. I've gotten a bit less sweary since my children became old enough to speak, but I am still given over to extravagant swearing.

I say "bag of dicks" a lot at the moment. I find it to be a really beautiful insult.

Paper Towns made me deeply think about how I think about other people. What made you begin to picture people as people and not as your own personal constructs of them?

I realized in college that if I was going to be serious about writing, I would have to try to see people as they see themselves. This is incredibly hard to do on a minute-by-minute basis, but I also believe that it's the #1 job of adulthood. Everything is unlocked through empathy.

It seems to be the biggest failure of Internet discourse is a failure of empathy. We don't REALLY see the Other as human, especially if they aren't physically present, and so we engage in conversation as if the Other were a monster. But this is also in a less visible way the failure of regular discourse, too, right? Because we just physically remove ourselves from the Other (by living in neighborhoods and attending schools that are segregated by race and class) and by not taking the time to understand that the people we interact with have inner lives that are as rich and multitudinous as our own.

So I wrote Paper Towns about that, but it's also the #1 thing I've been thinking about for the last like 18 years or so.

As a virgin, the thing that has been on my mind for the last 18 years is sex.

Talk about different priorities in life.

Empathy is by far the most important part of sex.

I need a new book to read, can you recommend me some that you really loved?

Read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It just came out and it is really special.

When you give advice on your podcast, do you ever feel nervous or anxious that you might be giving poor advice? Love your podcast by the way!

Well, I'm confident that I'm providing poor advice, which is why I try in ever episode to emphasize that our advice should be taken with a grain of salt.

I assume people listen to the podcast to get the latest news about AFC Wimbledon and then just sorta suffer through the advice portion of the program.

The ending of the Paper Towns movie changed a little bit from the book. How did you feel about that? Did you like it?

Yeah I liked the end of the movie.

I've never cared much about plot (as numerous critics have pointed out). The priority for me was finding a way to capture the anticlimax of Q understanding that Margo is not some fine and precious thing to be won after a hero's journey but is in fact a person. But I liked that after that, we got to see Q go not just away from that romanticization of Margo, but also toward the value he has been failing to recognize because of that romanticization: the value of love between friends. So I thought it really worked in the movie, but in the end that's for the audience to decide.

I was just wondering why you chose Orlando? I'm from there so it was really cool for me to read all the places that I grew up. :-)

I grew up there, so it's a place I knew well. Also, I knew how it felt to want to leave. :)

Hi John! Thanks for answering questions! I'm a pretty big fan and I've been following Vlogbrothers for a couple of years. I've noticed that your charity focuses are primarily in Africa, especially regarding healthcare. Are there any plans or intentions to broaden your travels to Latin, Pacific Island or Asian countries? This is in no way an attack on the humanitarian efforts you have supported, as all successful charity is good, I'm just curious if we'll see a broader outreach as time goes on.

Well, there's the charity work my wife and I do personally and then there are the focuses of nerdfighteria.

As for Sarah and me: Our giving is focused on 1. global health and poverty and 2. educational opportunities for women. Most of our money goes to organizations like Save the Children and Partners in Health that do work in Africa but also work in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, etc. (PIH is one of the largest and most effective NGOs in Haiti, for instance.)

As for nerdfighteria: I think we've been active as a community around the world. We've helped build clean water solutions for villages in Bangladesh; we've built wells through in Haiti; and we're actively working on clean water projects in rural Ethiopia right now. And through the nerdfighter kiva group, millions of dollars are being loaned to entrepreneurs throughout the world.

If there's been a focus on Ethiopia in the past year, it's because I was recently there to try to learn about how they've built such a (relatively) successful primary healthcare system despite being one of the poorest countries in the world. But I definitely want to think about poverty and health as systemic human problems and not as problems limited to one country or continent.

What was the last photo you took on your phone?

My son and his best friend hugging after not seeing each other for 12 days. VERY CUTE.

If you had to make a movie out of "Will Grayson Will Grayson" or "An Abundance of Katherines" - Which would you want to do first?

I think WGWG would be the more important and interesting movie. (I am quite fond of Katherines, but it is for good reasons my least popular book.)

I'm curious about what you, as an insider, think those good reasons are.

I mean, it's a comic novel featuring a LOT of math with a not-terribly-likable protagonist, so it's very different from my other books. It's also sort of fantastical--all my books are, I guess, but it's the closest to like explicit magical realism. It's just a weird little book. I still like it, and it has really hardcore fans, but I get why people find it weird or off-putting.

I just recently rewatched the whole 2007 run of Brotherhood 2.0 again for the first time since I watched it as you were putting them out daily. What is the biggest lesson either about life or making videos that you learned way back then which still informs what you do now?

Thanks for watching, and rewatching. I think the biggest lesson I took away from B2.0 was about discipline. Just making something for people every other day for a year stretched me a lot and showed me that I had more creative bandwidth than I initially believed.

I'd always imagined discipline and deadlines as the enemies of creativity, but for me at least they made me more creatively productive. That changed the way I approach my work.

Also, the nerdfighter community has changed everything about my life. It's hard to isolate one thing because being part of nerdfighteria just changed everything.

What would be your perfect meal?

Really good cheese pizza for a first course, and then some kind of fancy vegetable-laden pizza for the main course, and then a single slice of pepperoni pizza for dessert.

Do you sometimes miss 2008 Nerdfighteria? When it was a little smaller core audience.


But I am also very grateful for 2015 nerdfighteria, because the project for awesome and our other projects have so much more reach, and because the size of nerdfighteria allows shows from crashcourse to the art assignment to sexplanations to thrive.

Biggest mistake you've made or one thing you would change in your adult life John?

I've been really lucky in that all my mistakes were made with a safety net beneath me, so the ones that might've been catastrophic feel like a bump in the road. (Actually, I have not been lucky. I have been privileged. I know much of reddit dislikes that word, but it's the right word.)

The biggest mistake I made was overinvesting my time and energy into other people's notions of success (You should be on TV! You should be in movies! You should have Proper Fame!) rather than focusing on the work that matters most to me--writing books and making YouTube videos.

What is your thoughts on the interruptions of the Bernie Sander's rally by BLM activists? Do you think this represents a positive possible trend in american political activism and discourse?

P.S.: Your 42 days of mountain goats on Tumblr was absolutely lovely

I refuse to acknowledge that there is a Presidential election campaign until January 28th, 2016--100 days before the primary vote here in Indiana.

He probably won't answer this because the election is still over 100 days away.


If we come across you in public, how would you prefer we approach you if at all?

EDIT: Apparently not by screaming and running to hug you. But I'm not sure if I could muster that much expressiveness anyway.

Just say hi! Treat me like a normal person, and I will try to treat you like a normal person, and 99% of the time it will work out fine. The only place we might have an issue is if you're behind me in line at Chipotle, because I am very serious about my Chipotle ordering and cannot be distracted during it.

What's it like to be harassed on a red carpet when you're not used to it ?

I remember you said it kind of startled you

It's absolutely horrible.

I mean, among the world's horrors, obviously it is a pretty minor one, but yeah, I truly hate it.

It's made worse by the fact that I don't know how to be photographed or how to stand or where to put my hands and so I always end up looking like a jackass. I have never seen a red carpet picture of me where I didn't look absolutely miserable (usually quite sweaty too, because I sweat when anxious).

One time I was on a red carpet and there were hundreds of flashes all around me and I felt like I was going to faint, and a friend standing next to me who shall remain nameless but you can probably guess said, "Just let them make you an object. Just give in to it." And that seems like the only strategy that works.

To be fair, I was a totally willing participant in this I'll Let You Turn Me Into an Object If You Mention the Movie Adaptation of My Book in Your Publication exchange, so it's not like I was being exploited or oppressed or anything. I was trading a little bit of myself for a little bit of movie exposure.

This of course felt dirty but on the other hand I did really like the movie and was grateful to the people who made it and wanted to be helpful if I could.

Did any of your books have different titles prior to publishing?

I called Looking for Alaska "Pinaple," for a long time, which stood for "Proving I'm Not A Pontificating Literary Esthete." Like, the file on my computer of the final draft is still pinaple83.doc (because it was the 83rd version).

What made you change it?

Well, Pinaple just isn't a very good title for a novel. Whereas Looking for Alaska is a GREAT title, because everyone thinks your boarding school novel is a wilderness adventure story.

In an old vlogbrothers video, you talked about writing the Paper Towns screenplay, and how you wanted Q to end up with Lacey. A lot of us readers loved the way the book ended, with Q realising that he couldn't just chase a girl across the country in his manic pixie girl fantasy.

Anyways, why did you want Q to end up with Lacey in the original screenplay? Do you think that this impacts the overall theme of the book?

Well, that whole screenplay was terrible, and I was very grateful that Scott and Mike wrote such a great script for the movie that actually ended up being made.

In the script that I wrote, the idea was that Q realized that he'd been projected onto Margo and making her into something more than a person, so that remained. But then for some reason he was like, "Oh, but I know Lacey as a real person," and then they made out and rode off into the sunset so it could be a properly Hollywood ending.

It was pretty terrible, like I said.

Good morning John! I am currently at work so the only reason I saw this is because I'm obviously not being productive at work. How do you stay productive and on task while working? Especially when so much of your work is on your own time and you don't have a boss hovering over your shoulder keeping you on task.

I am also not being productive at the moment if that makes you feel any better. :)

I am very fortunate to like my work, and to enjoy the process of being inside of it. I find the world pretty overwhelming and scary, and if I can disappear into work I escape that feeling a little. That is what keeps me productive. When doing work I'm not passionate about--and I've done lots of it over the years--I find it impossible to be very productive.

How do you feel about a lot of movie reviewers saying the ending of Paper Towns was "underwhelming"?

Well, it was supposed to be underwhelming.

I mean, the whole idea of the story is that Quentin thinks of himself as the hero in some manic pixie dream girl fantasy: He must track down the girl, despite long odds, and then go on this Hero's Journey to Save Her, and then once he has done that he will Win The Girl and Live Happily Ever After.

Except the whole construction of that narrative is based on young men romanticizing and idealizing the girls they like, and thinking of them as objects to be won after overcoming a series of obstacles. In fact, girls are not objects to be won or conquered or whatever; they are people, in precisely the same complex and multitudinous way Quentin himself is a person.

Learning this about Margo--that she is not some fine and precious thing but is in fact a person who's been tremendously hurt by the world's romanticization of her--is the climax of the story. Story climaxes typically involve either death or sex, and this one doesn't, and that's underwhelming. But the essential argument of the movie is that these male heroic journeys are either underwhelming or they are dishonest.

Is there a subject that you really wanted to do for Crash Course that hasn't worked out? If so, why?

We still haven't figured out a good way to approach Algebra or Geometry, and I really want to. I think getting people excited about math is super important, but it's also very difficult. Like, I HATED math when I was in school, and it was only when I was in my early 20s and befriended a mathematician that I began to understand how interesting it could be. He basically taught me calculus by using my newfound enthusiasm for the ideas in math to show me how they actually worked. I want more people to have the kind of math awakening that I had, but we haven't yet figured out how to do that using the Crash Course format.

Hey there John.

What is your opinion on "Go set a watchman"? Not just the novel but the fact that a draft of your work could be published later in your life, or even after it, soiling work you've already done? (Like, for example, a sequel or prequel to one of your books and it being about the History of the United states postal service or the roadkill tanning-hide manual).

Great question, and thanks for reminding me about the draft of An Abundance of Katherines that was so heavily devoted to the process of tanning a raccoon hide.

  1. My literary executor has explicit instructions about what can be published and what can't. GSaW is complicated because Harper Lee is still alive and from what we can tell was in favor of the book's publication. (I call it a book because it lives between covers, but I don't consider it a novel. It is clearly a precursor draft to TKaM. There are early drafts of LfA and TFIOS that are comparably different from the finished manuscripts, but they too are drafts and not separate novels.)

  2. I have read GSaW, and I think it's an interesting and important draft of one of the great novels of the 20th century. My favorite thing about its publication is that it changes the way we think about Atticus Finch a little, and I think that's good: The idea that the great literary hero of the Civil Rights Era would be a white southern man was always problematic to me, because that just doesn't reflect the reality of the Civil Rights-era South. There were white men who opposed segregation (my grandfather was one of them), but they didn't kill Jim Crow. Black activists did.

  3. Go Set a Watchman has a lot of beautiful passages, and Harper Lee's prose is just so damned easy on the eyes that I found much of it really enjoyable. But I still think it was awful of the publisher to put it out there with neither a foreword nor an explanation from scholars about the manuscript or its history. The publisher presented it as a new Harper Lee novel, when in fact it is definitely not new and at least in my opinion not a novel either.

I work at a bookstore and SO many people think it's a sequel. I describe it to them as the same universe, but a different dimension. Quite a few customers tell me how dissatisfied and upset they are with the book when they read it with that mindset. I feel they should have explained the situation better or written an introduction about how the book came to be.

Yeah, it's asking too much of readers. They expect a standalone novel because it's been marketed that way, and if you don't buy it from a knowledgeable bookseller like yourself, you're 100% going to be disappointed because it just doesn't stand alone as a novel, and it certainly isn't a sequel.

If you were to enter the presidential race under the third party of Nerdfighteria, what would be the issues you'd talk about most as part of your plan once you enter the White House?

I would say:

  1. We need to raise taxes and devote more resources to foreign aid, especially to helping poor countries build better primary health care facilities with the goal of cutting infant and maternal mortality by half in the next 20 years.

  2. We need to raise taxes again to spend more money on NASA.

  3. Then we need to raise taxes once more to dramatically increase teacher pay so that good second-year teachers are making $60,000 a year in public schools on average. But don't worry, I would also piss off teachers by making the pay increases merit based.

  4. The tax I would use to pay for all this would be a national consumption tax, or VAT, of around 10%. I would also raise taxes on everyone who makes more than $45,000 per year, and would dramatically raise the tax rate of income over $500,000 a year. Also I would bring back the estate tax.

I would be so electable.

I'd vote for you!

Probably. How would the merit-based part of teacher pay increases work? How would it be measured? For example, how would it avoid rewarding teachers in affluent districts with tons of resources and punishing teachers who are in poorer districts and whose students have all kinds of extra challenges, like getting enough to eat?

I don't know. I wasn't aware candidates for President had to explain how they'd actually do things; I thought they were just allowed to make broad observations.

Now I don't want to be President at all!

How do you think the VAT would work since we already have Sales Tax? Isn't it just a higher Sales Tax system?

We don't have a national sales tax. We have 4,000 different regional sales taxes. This would be on top of those.

Wouldn't adding a VAT without providing more services directly to lower income families disproportionately hurt poorer people? I know you also said you'd raise income taxes on those who make more money, but none of the things you mentioned spending money on would directly benefit poor people, while you would be substantially increasing their effective tax rate.

Probably yes. I'd be a terrible President.

How many books do you read a year?

I used to read way more before I had kids. Once THEY learn to read I'm hoping I'll be back to my old ways. These days I read maybe 25 books a year.

I'm not John, but I am a sort of evangelist for Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book, as well as The Martian, by Andy Weir.

Both are excellent, and both are very relevant - the Coates book because it deals with race and blackness in modern America, and The Martian because it's being made into a movie, and it's just a super awesome book.

Weirdly, I read both these books within the last month and really liked both of them so...yeah, listen to this person!

Hi John! How do you and Hank decide on starting new ventures?Do you guys ever conduct data analysis/analytics on any of your projects?

We do rely a lot on the annual nerdfighteria census that nerdfighters fill out. They tell us about themselves, what make them feel like a nerdfighter, and what kind of stuff they want to see more of.

But Hank and I also just talk a lot with each other about what makes sense. Should we focus more on vidcon or on Crash Course? What Crash Course series should we be doing? If we were going to make a show that offered context to news stories, how would we go about that? What would the budget look like? Could we fund it ourselves or would we need a partner? Where are we going to find writers?

We tend to explore those questions in exhausting detail for months and months before we ever do anything.

Come to think of it, though, there are other times when I'll call Hank and he'll be like, "Did I tell you I started a videoblog adaptation of Pride and Prejudice? Well, I did." So I guess it depends.

I don't know if this has been already asked to you before but where do you get the names of your characters? They're all so unique and I just wonder how and why. :)

Depends on the character. Any particular ones interest you?

Advice for being told your major is "useless"?

I'm not sure when we got this idea that education exists only to give us better job opportunities/higher lifetime earnings. A major is not useless if for the rest of your life you're able to bring broader context to your experience. It is not useless if you've given a better framework for understanding and pursuing your passions, whether those turn out to be lucrative or not. And it is not useless if you graduate from college able to write well and think critically, because that prepares you not just for most jobs but also for the non-professional challenges and opportunities of adulthood.

In your latest video you said the political cycle was way too long for you to become invested in it compared to other countries who's presidential cycles are way way shorter, and I was wondering if you are just shutting yourself off completely and cramming yourself at the end or just picking up bits of information and making your mind up as you go? I feel as though a huge problem today in America is the former, where people don't bother looking at at all the potential candidates and all the issues and just pick the person their local news station pushes for the hardest. My fear was some people might pick up this nonchalant kind of way of thinking about politics, and you have a lot of young viewers, and being as impressionable as young, (maybe not just young) people can be with so little time, maybe a longer cycle to really let people make up their minds is good, so people really do get a good grasp on things.

I think 180 days is plenty of time to examine the candidates and their platforms. I do not think the extra 300 days we've added to the campaign cycle helps much. I'd much rather be talking about the problems of governance--like the fact that we haven't had a highway bill in four freaking years--rather than the media constantly focusing on elections that are more than a year away.

You've talked a lot about your ex-girlfriends throughout your time on Youtube. What advice do you have for someone who's coming out of a long term relationship a little bit heartbroken?

Let yourself feel sad. Don't judge yourself for feeling sad. The worst part about heartbreak is that you're sad and then you get mad at yourself for being sad, and then you're mad and sad, and then you get increasingly despondent about this increasing misery, and it spirals out of control.

You're sad. That's okay. You should be sad. This relationship that was important to you has ended. There's a real loss there. But you must allow them to have their lives, and you need to go on and have your life. So find stuff to do and people to spend time with, and don't judge yourself for being sad, and slowly but inexorably, things will get better.

That's been my experience, anyway.

What is your favorite character from anything (books/non-books)?

Holden Caulfield.

Hi John! Long time Nerdfighter here. I have a couple of questions.

  1. How do you handle the misguided hate from people on Tumblr who are determined to hate every white cis man on the planet? I saw a particularly horrible one where they accused you of a completely implausible sexual assault. It makes me sad, because I initially joined Tumblr to connect with Nerdfighters, but there is so much hate there now :(

  2. What books would you recommend to someone in their early 20s who has very little time to read?

  3. Which movie do you like better, Paper Towns or TFiOS?

(You don't have to answer the first one if you don't want to get into it)


  1. I think a lot of their concerns are legitimate. But at some point call-out culture becomes hater culture, and I don't think hater culture is a positive influence on discourse online. (I actually think the hater culture that attacks and attempts to silence women and people of color is a far greater threat to online discourse than so-called "tumblr culture," but I think in general being a hater is not a good use of one's single precious human life.)

  2. Hrrrmmm. Have you read The Art of Fielding? Have you read Beloved? Or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay? I'd recommend all of those.

  3. I really can't say. They're such different movies and such different experiences, and I know this is a cop out, but it's hard to judge them next to each other qualitatively. I feel very lucky to be the rare author who has actually liked two movie adaptations of their work.

Mr. Green, as a Liverpool fan here in Atlanta, I've idolized Jamie Carragher for almost 20 years now (I played the same position as him as well). Do you have a favorite Liverpool player, past or present?

Yeah, for me it's Steven Gerrard. It's difficult to overstate how much, and how irrationally, I love that man. I love him. I never want to meet him, and have passed up on several opportunities, because it would be too much. I would weep.

Are there any words you actively avoid when writing a novel?

I caught a lot of crap for the overuse of the word "deadpan" in Looking for Alaska. (To be fair, I did overuse it, and my editor told me to trim the deadpans, and I was like, "DEADPAN IS A BEAUTIFUL WORD I WOULD READ A NOVEL THAT CONTAINED NOTHING BUT DEADPAN OVER AND OVER," and in the end I was wrong and she was right. As usual.)

So now in every novel I write, I include the word deadpan exactly once as a joke to my editor, Julie. I avoid using it more than once.

Other than that, I try pretty hard not to refer to the word "heart" unless I am describing the beating pumping organ. But even that I give into sometimes.

What is your favourite way of eating a potato?

French fried.

Did you get to keep any props from The Fault in Our Stars or Paper Towns?

I have the beer sword from Paper Towns and the menu at the restaurant from The Fault in Our Stars.

My daughter met you in NYC and gave you the Edgar Allen Poe Pop-Up book. To be honest, before she met you, I did not know much about you. I knew you were an author but had no idea how much impact you are having on my daughter and her friends. I am so happy they have you as inspiration and am wondering if you really understand the wonderful impact you (and Hank) have had?

I still have that! That was such a cool present. Please thank your daughter for me.

I try to keep my head down and make stuff and not think too much about impact, because when I do I find the prospect of it kind of overwhelming. (There is always more that you could/should do, for instance, and I find that I focus a lot more on that than on whatever stuff I have done.)

But I'm really glad if you feel like I've been a positive influence in your daughter's life. It's a an amazing thing to have a seat at the table in people's lives when they are forming their values and thinking about big questions, and I try to take that opportunity seriously.

What would you consider your greatest success?

In terms of books, probably winning the Printz Award in 2006.

In terms of online video stuff, the longevity and interestingness of nerdfighteria.

As someone who does what they love for a living (though I'm sure it's not all rainbows and unicorns, obviously), what advice do you have for someone who doesn't yet know what they'd love to do? How do I "find my passion"?

That's an interesting question. I don't think I started out thinking, "I would really love to write YA novels and make YouTube videos." I mean, for one thing, there was no online video when I was in my early 20s.

I guess my advice, then, would be to let yourself get excited about stuff. I wanted to write YA novels because I read a few that won the Printz Awards and Honors in 2000 and 2001, and they were excellent and exciting and I realized, I want to do that!

I started watching The Show with Ze Frank in 2006, and also became a member of the lonelygirl15 fan community. And after many months of watching all the amazing community-oriented stuff happening in online video, I texted my brother and was like, "This is so cool we should do this."

Follow the road of stuff you find interesting or get excited about, and you'll find your passion. Or at least that's how it has worked for me so far.

Even as the quality of vlogbrothers videos has improved over the years from a technical perspective, is there anything you feel they're lacking from the first couple of years?

There was something conversational about 2007-2008 YouTube, especially with video responses and everything. And we've lost that conversational quality on vlogbrothers, that feeling of it just being two guys who live across the country from each other and want to talk about what interests them.

But I feel like that was inevitably going to happen as the medium changed and we aged, so I can't regret it so much as I look back on it a bit wistfully.

I've heard these are supposed to be the best years of my life

I'm not John (damn) but I hope I have some helpful words for you. The people who think high school is supposed to be the best time of your life peaked in high school. I won't go into the implications of that because I don't like to generalize and my perception may be skewed anyway, but there is no time you're "supposed to" have the best years of your life. Some people peak in high school. Some people love college more than anything. Some people feel adulthood is the best time of their life, some people love retirement. It all depends on the cards you're dealt and how you play them. In my experience, the vast majority of post-college people I've talked to who hated high school say that college and beyond are astronomically better. Your mileage may vary of course, but there are a LOT of people who have felt like you do who have found the rest of their life to be so much better. The most practical advice I can give you is to hang in there, push your way through the rest of high school, leave it in the dust behind you, and never stop giving a shit. Part of the reason you're scared and stressed out is likely that you care, and caring will get you so far in adult life. I also think that when young people get overwhelmed by their future, it's because they have a lot of doors to choose from and they don't know which one to choose. There are a ton of paths to happiness and success for people who have a lot of doors to choose from. Chances are high that you'll pick one of them. I wish you the best of luck, and DFTBA.


what advice would you give to scared/stressed out teenagers? I'm about to enter my junior year of high school, and I'm so scared. I don't know what to do or where I'm going, and the rest of my life seems to exhausting to think about. I've heard these are supposed to be the best years of my life, and to enjoy my youth, and I'm trying. How would you handle this feeling, because it really is awful. (btw, thanks for being so awesome)

There's a line in The Great Gatsby. Nick (the narrator) describes Tom Buchanan as "one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax."

It sounds like you are not going to be Tom Buchanan.

That is very, very, very good news, my friend.

How have the fans of AFC Wimbledon reacted to your involvement with the club?

Initially befuddled but supportive.

They've been really cool about it and really excited about it. I mean, they're always going to be nice to sponsors--free money--but I do feel so welcome there. The evening I spent at the Cherry Red Records stadium was one of the best nights of my life. Some of the supporters even chanted my name. It was amazing.

Hey John! Have you ever dabbled in poetry? Who are some of your favourite poets?

I love reading poetry but can't write it. (I figure the world may not need one more poet, but it definitely needs one more reader of poetry.)

I love Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and Keats and Nikki Giovanni and Eavan Boland and this list could go one forever. I love reading poetry.

What's your favorite Shakespeare play?

....Hamlet? Tough call.

I love the GTAV series you do! Do you play any other games in your spare time? Or do you have old favorites?

I only play video games at the office (we don't even have a console at home! And I don't have a proper fast-enough-for-current-games PC.)

I was never very good at video games, but now I'm properly terrible because I never get to play them. I pretty much have only played FIFA and GTA in the last few years. I quite like FIFA, though, and with my new use of the Y button, I'm becoming quite good.

Will you come to any more Wimbledon games and how do you feel about the wombles coming home? (well they're close anyway)

Is it going to happen?

It will be the crowning achievement of the men and women who built that football club up from nothing to be back home in a beautiful new stadium with top-class facilities. It would show that a club is made of its supporters and that such a club can survive and thrive. And it would show that no one but Wombles get to decide what happens to football in Wimbledon.

(I'll be at some games this season!)

This interview was transcribed from an "ask me anything" question and answer session with John Green conducted on Reddit on 2015-08-13. The Reddit AMA can be found here.