Previous: On Sharing the Walk
Next: Why I Haven't Written a New Book



View count:536,713
Last sync:2024-03-31 16:15


Citation formatting is not guaranteed to be accurate.
MLA Full: "8 Things I Wish I Knew When I was Writing my First Novel." YouTube, uploaded by vlogbrothers, 7 June 2019,
MLA Inline: (vlogbrothers, 2019)
APA Full: vlogbrothers. (2019, June 7). 8 Things I Wish I Knew When I was Writing my First Novel [Video]. YouTube.
APA Inline: (vlogbrothers, 2019)
Chicago Full: vlogbrothers, "8 Things I Wish I Knew When I was Writing my First Novel.", June 7, 2019, YouTube, 04:00,
All-in-all, I think the second book has been easier than the first for me. This is (I have heard) not the usual experience. In part, I think this is because I didn't have to work as hard to create the characters (they already existed) and because I had some really strong ideas coming out of the last one.

Still, there are some practical reasons why it was easier as well...just because I knew about them now. Ways in which I had previously misunderstood the writing process. Here are a few of those things.

Subscribe to our newsletter!
And join the community at
Help transcribe videos -
John's twitter -
Hank's twitter -
Hank's tumblr -
Listen to The Anthropocene Reviewed at
Listen to Dear Hank and John at
Good morning, John. 
Remember how I wrote a book.
This is all of the languages it's been published in so far.
That's the coolest thing I own.

That book will, at some point in the future, have a sequel.
And I've been working on that sequel.
And so, I've been thinking about writing a lot lately. 
And this has made me realize that there are a number of things that I wish that I had known about writing when I was writing my first book.

This, of course, isn't going to be applicable to everybody.
But I figured I'd share, with the help of some questions I got on twitter.

Thing number one: Characters vs. Plot.
I started with plot. 
And I thought that plot was gonna carry me through the whole process.
I was super wrong.
I couldn't even really get deep into the book until I cared about the characters really deeply.
I had to love them like friends in order to have the motivation to finish telling their story. 
So, like as far as writing motivation goes, my biggest tip is fall in love with your characters. That's all - it's the only thing that kept me going.

Thing number two: Writing schedules are not a thing that I have.
Sometimes, I'm pretty busy.
Sometimes, I'm not.
Sometimes, I'm sick.
But if I do not write at least a thousand words a week, the story leaves my brain.
I no longer think about it in the shower, when I'm taking a walk.
And starting back up again becomes a whole process.
For me, a thousand words is, like, one or two hours of writing time.
And if I don't make that time, I'm not writing the book anymore.
And I might not write again for months. 

Thing number three, also regarding the actual physical process of writing: Not all writing is writing.
Thinking, staring, researching, stressing.
Reading other people's books.
Reading your own book again.
Reading stuff that you've already written.
All that stuff is writing.
If you're super focused on word count, you'll have more words. 
If you're super focused on story, you'll have more story.

Thing number four, relatedly: Nothing but time writes a book.
I don't know how I didn't know this. But it takes hundreds of hours at least.
And so, if you don't spend the time, it doesn't get done.

Thing number five: Plotting, for me, is process of constant retcon. 
I don't know how other people do it.
But I'm writing and then I realized that something earlier in the story doesn't make sense.
Or isn't necessary, or is too loose.
And then in the first book, I would go back and fix that, which was terrible.
One, because I might get further into the story and then have to go back and fix that exact same thing again.
Takes a thousand years to look it up and fix it.
It takes you out of your flow.
So the second book, I just created a folder in my project file and it's called: Things to change.
And it's just full of stuff I need to change so that I don't miss it in revision.

Thing number six: The characters have to be in control.
If I'm controlling them, then they aren't real and they're not gonna feel real.

Thing number seven: Oh my god, why didn't I know this, you don't have to write linearly. 
This time around, if I'm excited about a scene, I'd go and I write that scene.
And it doesn't matter if it's gonna take place, like, at the last quarter of the book and I'm in the first quarter.
When I eventually fill in all the gaps, like, there's definitely gonna be things that I have to change about that scene.
But also, everything that I've written up to that point is gonna mesh better with that final destination.
And even more importantly, sometimes, a scene you're really excited about - they're big scenes, they're important scenes.
They turn out that they don't work.
And, like, then, if you write up all the way to that scene just to get to that scene and it doesn't work.
It's a disaster.
So, for me, it's been really good to know if my important scenes are actually gonna work before I get to them.

And finally, thing number eight: I have expertises and passions.
Of things that I love and that I care about and that I know about.
I've written, like, a thousand non-fiction video essays.
I'm kind of an expert on social media.
I don't know how I hadn't figured this out.
But, like, using my expertises and my passions has been deeply enabling.
And all of my early failed attempts at other books was because I wasn't doing that. 

So, John, thank you for the years of practice here. 
And if I could give you any advice, it's, apparently, write a soccer novel.
I'll see you on Tuesday.

I don't have any news regarding the sequel right now.
But I am working on it.
If you want to hear me talk more about writing, I have a very long video over on Hank's channel where I answer many more questions that I was sent on Twitter. 
And also, the Book Boxes from Life's Library.
We usually make more than we're probably going to need.
Just in case, anybody needs some replacements.
But we're releasing a bunch of those on discount at if you want to check that out.