Previous: Swearing: AFC Wimbly Womblys #113
Next: Why I Play as AFC Wimbledon: AFC Wimbly Womblys #115



View count:29,897
Last sync:2023-11-07 12:00
In which John discusses his novel-writing process. The Wimbly Womblys take on Blackpool.

Suggest topics for future videos in the comments!

And consider following us:
Twitter: @AFCWimblyWombly
Hello and welcome to Hankgames without Hank. My name is John Green. I'm the manager of the AFC Wimbledon Wimbly Womblys, and it's winter, my friends. We're in fifth place in the championship, and it's raining in England, but because it is cold, that rain is coming down as snow.

So here in the snow, we're going to attempt to take on- who are we playing today? Blackpool - the pool of darkness? Um, we're taking on the Darth lords of Blackpool, who uh... I believe I read that they- they don't die, they- it's like a vamp- they're vampires. They're vampires. So we're taking on the vampires of mighty- the mighty vampires of Blackpool. We'll see how we do!

Um... Today I'm gonna talk about how to read- how to write a book, which I was trying to talk about last time, but then Aaron Carroll and I ended up talking about swearing instead. Sorry about that. But what a performance from the Wimbly Womblys it was!

Um... I- oh, gosh! Okay, everything worked out better than expected. We've got Seb Brown on the ball. Great distribution by Seb as well.

So there are lots of different ways to write a book. There's no right way. My way is very inefficient, but I thought I would talk about my way, because lots of- it's something lots of people ask about, about my writing process, and what- how I sort of think about writing books, or go about writing books.

Um, lots of people make Bibles for instance, where they sort of write everything about the world- the world in which they're writing, and there's lots of facts about the world. I think of Harry Potter when I think of that, and that sort of world, but also like, Faulkner's fictional county in Mississippi - he had maps of it that he made, and he would write out like, you know, things about that place that would never make it- make their way into the books.

And I used to try to do that, because I always liked Faulkner a lot, and I thought "oh, well that's the way that like-" oh, God. What am I doing?!" "-that's the way that like, real fancy writers write, so that's the way I should write". Um, and... You know. It uh... It works for lots of people. It doesn't work for me.

I remember when I was writing An Abundance of Katherines, I made a map of- of Gutshot Tennessee, and like, I used it zero times. Like, I made the map entirely - not because it was helpful to me as a writer, but entirely because I thought it was um, I thought it was something that writers should do.

Uh, and... I've eventually stripped that stuff away, and I write the way that I write. I do try to learn about writing all the time, and learn new strategies, but I also know that I'm just not that kind of writer. And I'm not the kind of writer who writes extensive outlines. If I do write extensive outlines, I always end up not using them, and they always end up not being that important to me, so I don't- I don't outline.

Oh no! Come on! It's snowing! It's snow- for the love of Go- okay, alright Seb. Seb! Nobody stops a penalty like Seb Brown! He's going right! Oh, Seb! How did you not get there?! Ohhhhhh. Schmoog! I thought he was there, Meredith! Can I see a replay? Can I see a replay, please? Because didn't you think he got there?! Oh, he left very early! Just an extremely well-taken penalty. I thought he left- I left a nanosecond after he kicked it. Maybe I needed to go a nanosecond earlier.

Anyway, we're down one-nil to the mighty pool of darkness. Um... (laughs) That'd be a pretty- down one-nil to the mighty pool of darkness is not a bad summary of many periods of my life. Um...

So what I do is I write a first draft, and I don't go in with a lot of preconceived notions about it. I think while I'm writing, I try to be totally unafraid of writing, kind of, going down the wrong paths... Um, you know, my novels are not particularly plot-driven, but um... You know, every story is dependent upon its story. Um, and I try to- I just- in that first draft, I try to get to know the characters really well, and their problems, and I try to get to know at least some of what's gonna happen to them.

But I also- a huge part of my writing process is telling myself that it's okay to suck. That it's okay to make mistakes, that um... That, you know, like, it's okay if nothing that I write today gets- ends up in a book. That isn't failure. Um, and particularly when I'm writing a first draft, like, I'm writing to learn. I'm writing to learn about the world, I'm writing to think about these problems. Um, I'm writing to think about these characters and what their relationships with one another are like. And that's the focus for me. That's what interests me, not as much the um... The figuring out the details of the plotting. And so the plot's always change a lot.

Now, the Fault in our Stars, I think because it was a long time in the making and I spent a long time thinking about it - like, ten years - it was a little more put together in its first draft than most of my books. Like, it had more- more of the story, a lot of the writing changed, but more of the story survived. But even then, a lot of the story changed. Like... what is now... Well, I mean the ending- I made lots of comments about the ending, how the ending was vastly different in the last 40 pages of the book, nothing survived from the first draft.

But- but even like other things, like what is now... A bunch of scenes in Holiday Park were once these scenes in this weird waterfall that's privately owned in Indianapolis that I was obsessed with when I was a little kid. Um.. And you know, slowly in the course of writing it and rewriting it, it became... It became clear to me that - mostly through Julie telling me - but it became clear to me (that's my editor) um, that those scenes were not really for an audience, they were really for me.

Like, I was writing that for me, to think about my own relationship with like, waterfalls and- and dry waterfalls when I was a kid. That it wasn't, you know, it wasn't- it was the most obvious metaphor for what I was trying to say, and that's never the best metaphor. Like, the first idea is never your best idea.

I'm a big believer in like, waiting for the second idea. That's something Sarah and I talk a lot about in creative work, is like... How do you try to be patient and say like, "this is an idea, but I wonder if the second joke will be the better joke, or if the second um- if the second level of this will be better". That's something I try to do in my writing a lot.

Ooooooh! John Green. (sings) He's big, he's tough, he has a ginger puff, Other John Green, Other John Green! (talks) Beautiful- that's just, you know what? It's just a John Green finish! Just get to the top- just get- yeah, get in the box, and then right foot it into the net with a ton of power! Because that's who he is. He's a big, powerful finisher. And he's a father, and he loves his children! And that was gorgeous. Child. I'm sure- maybe one day he will love his children, but right now he only loves his child.

Sometimes I- sometimes I mix up Bald- Other John Green and myself, because I feel like we're- we are similar in some ways, like we have the same name, but also there are other ways in which I feel like we have a lot in common. Um, but anyway... I love those- I love those two guys. Uh... And suddenly we've gone from one-nil down to one-nil tied! But can we go to two-one up?

Oh no. Not with- not with play like that! You- you- that was out of bounds! The ball was unambiguously out of bounds! I don't even know what's happening right now, but it's unjust, I know that! Um... So...

Usually though, Fault in our Stars aside, I usually delete almost all of the first draft. Like, uh... Looking for Alaska, I would say 90%, Abundance of Katherines, 80 or 90%. Paper Towns, 70%. Um... Paper Towns, in the first draft, had a lot of stuff about um... Post-office boxes? Um... The history of post-office boxes.

Katherines had this whole long- incredibly long, in retrospect, thing about how to skin a raccoon. (laughs) I don't even know what else to say about that!

Oh! Oh! You've gotta get the ball off your foot, dude! Oh, my gosh. That's disappointing. I thought that was a goal for sure. Oh! Ohhh, nice save. Nice- that is frus- that's a little frustrating. Hells Pells has been waiting all season to get on the scoreboard. He did a nice cross-over dribble there and then... No. No, the keeper was ready for it.

Um... And I think like for me, del- that process of revision is where writing happens. Like, someone- someone very smart once said that all writing is rewriting, and that's true in a literal way for me, because if you think about what writing is, it's an attempt to get an idea that's in your head, into someone else's mind... And you can't- that process, the process of like, translating it from your mind to- to language, is a process of rewriting in some ways, it's a process of- recreating, not a process of creation...

And so when I accept that all writing is rewriting, the- you know, writing is not about finishing a word count per day or getting x-amount closer to having a finished book... Um, although I do try to write to word counts. I'm happy when I write 2,000 words a day, or even 500 words a day, and sad when I don't. So I do try to celebrate um... Those moments of having been productive.

Whether or not they lead to- oh, less Moore is hurt. I should have probably known that. A better- that might be why he wasn't able to complete that- yeah, I'm sorry less Moore. Not my best work. How about a hot slice of Kaz? No, no, no, no, no. The Gaulden child. The Gaulden child! Yesss. Um, a hot slice of Kaz is a pretty good name for a band, while we're talking about band names.

Uh, we gotta bring on Leonardo M- we gotta take off that's a Moura, he's in big trouble. And we're gonna bring on uh, his team mate Ozéia. Then I'm gonna- I'm actually gonna switch- I'm gonna leave on the Other John Green- nope, nope, nope. It's Deeney.

Okay! Everything worked out- everything worked out! We're gonna make three substitutions all at once, just like the pros do. Um... And uh, for the last ten minutes or so, we're gonna play with a- a slightly tweaked line-up. 'Cause we do wanna win this game, if it's at all possible. Although right now it doesn't seem possible, because I'm just running around the ball.

Um... So I- anyway, when I can accept writing as a process of recreation instead of a process of creation, um, and accept that like, not everything that comes out is going to be perfect and that it's a process of trying to get to a place of making something that people will read and feel what I'm feeling when I'm writing it, or feel what I want them to feel.

Um... When I can see that process as the reason to write, instead of seeing the end of having a published book or getting published or having a successful novel or whatever - when I can appreciate that process, I am a much better writer. Also a much happier writer! And then I also think that for me, the end product is much better.

But that's a very inefficient process, and I have to say that I am extremely lucky, uncommonly lucky, to be able to use that, to do it that way, because the vast majority of my writer friends have to write a book a year. Um, and I can't do that, this way. Like, maybe some people could, but not me. Oh, we almost had a goal there!

I can't um, I just- it takes me a year and a half or a year at least, to write the first draft and then it takes me a year or two to revise and then suddenly it's, you know, three or four years between books. So I'm very lucky to be able to um, to spend those three or four years between books, because most people definitely can't.

Um... So I'm to- I'm trying to write now, but it's- it is, it's very hard. It's not something that comes particularly easily to me. Um... That was a nice save. We've got another corner kick here in the ninetieth minute. It would be a great moment for a miracle. Bald John Green. Ohhhh! Almost, to the near post! Almost a beautiful Christmas miracle!

Let's try it one more time.... That's too- that's too long. Unless! No. Unless! Come on! It fell to the Gaulden child. No! Gaulden child! Ohhh! Come on, guys! No! Ohhh, we were so close, I could feel victory in our grasp! But instead we were offside... Ohhhhh.

The other thing that I would say about writing - the last thing I would say is that, um... In addition to focusing on the process, is that I find it very helpful when you just embrace narrative, like when you just see life as story. Um, and I try to do that whether I'm playing Wimbly Womblys or doing anything else, because that's what- yeah, I mean life, you know...

That's how we understand the world and imagine the world and remember the world, is narratively. Um... So, you know, if you can... Yeah. If you can see the narrative, look for the narrative in the world. I find it helpful! That might be the wrong way to approach life, I don't know.

We tied. We didn't win. I'm sorry. I tried my best. (sighs) Ohhh. It's disappointing. Best wishes.