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John Green doesn’t call himself a writer

Kai Ryssdal and Tommy Andres Oct 19, 2015
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Although it has been three years since the release of his last book, author John Green is still one of the best-selling novelists around. His most popular books, ‘The Fault in Our Stars” and “Paper Towns,” have been adapted to film, and he shows no signs of slowing down with his YouTube videos that rake in millions of viewers. 

On why he writes novels for and about teenagers:

I just think teenagers are really interesting both as readers and as characters. As readers, they’re interesting because I think the books that matter to you as a teenager matter to you throughout your life. It’s a period of your life when you’re forming your values, and it’s a tremendous privilege to have a seat at the table in kids’ lives when they’re going through that process.

They’re also really fascinating as characters because they’re doing so many things for the first time. They’re falling in love for the first time. They’re grappling with these big questions of what it means to be a person for the first time. That’s really exciting stuff to write about, at least for me. It brings me back to that time in my life which was a really intellectually vigorous time for me.

On being emotionally connected with his books:  

There were definitely a couple of months when I would go to Starbucks every morning at 7:30 and then open up my laptop and cry for three hours, and then close my laptop and leave. So I’m sure it seemed odd from the outside. But I like being emotionally involved in the stories if I can be, and I feel like if I’m not, then something’s wrong.

On how it feels to be successful:

It’s definitely strange and disorienting. It’s an amazing thing to have stumbled into such a platform and to have stumbled into such a large audience, but the main thing for me is taking pleasure in the work and trying to find ways into doing work that interests me and that I’m passionate about. In both online video and books, I’ve been able to do that for the last few years. That’s what’s really exciting to me. 

On his YouTube presence:

I’ve made a video on the channel my brother and I share, VlogBrothers, every Tuesday for the last 400 Tuesdays, except for one Tuesday when I had meningitis. YouTube is a huge part of my life. Hank and I also share … educational channels, including a crash course where we talk about school subjects at a high school or early college level. I love doing it. I love online video. I love the community that’s grown up around online video in the last 10 years, and I love making a video every Tuesday to my brother.

On being a successful writer without an online presence:

I think it’s possible. I think it’s much less likely particularly with young people. I think that if Salinger were writing today and if he were Salingering off there somewhere in the wilderness, he would still be a cultural phenomenon, and his refusal to engage in those places would probably be seen as part of that cultural phenomena. But to be honest, I feel like the internet at its best gives people a voice who may not otherwise have a voice. My hope for the internet is that we’ll see a lot more people be able to gain audiences without all of the gatekeepers that have controlled culture traditionally. I think that’s the best of the internet. That’s the potential of it.

On when he’ll know if he has made it as a writer:

I mean I haven’t written a book in like three years, so I don’t know if I’ve made it as a writer. I still feel uncomfortable calling myself a writer when people ask me what I do or any of that. It seems weird to call myself a full-time writer, because I’ve always had a day job. Now my day job is making crash course videos and other YouTube videos, but I’ve always liked having a day job, so I don’t know if I have made it as a writer. 


Kai asked John Green about what it felt like to have his work turned into movies. Let’s just say he’s an emotional guy.

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