In October, just before the 2012 presidential election, The Fault in Our Stars author John Green encouraged you, as writers, to get political—and took your questions. Today, we’re pleased to share his answers!
Lydia F.: If you could nominate anyone in the world, dead or alive, for presidency, who would it be and why?
I would probably nominate Abraham Lincoln. He was a good president, and a great convincer. I think we need a good convincer in the White House above all else.
Tara: On the subject of voting—I am 20 years old, and so are most of my friends. However, an alarming number of them refuse to vote, because they don’t believe in the politics of any of the candidates and because they believe that their vote would have no importance in the greater picture anyway, even if they did care enough to vote one way or another. I keep telling them that it’s part of their civic duty to make an informed decision, but I can’t convince them to vote, no matter how hard I try. They remain obstinate that politics are simply not their realm. What would you suggest I tell them?
There are a lot of problem with their reasoning here, so let me break down each argument against voting:
1. I shouldn’t vote because I am not that well informed. First off, many people who are going to vote are not well informed, either, and if you don’t vote, you’ll just give them a stronger voice. In fact, unless you are the least informed voter in the United States (which, trust me, you aren’t), this argument doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny, because you’re only giving some less informed voter than you excessive power. And also, it is not that hard to become a well informed voter.
2. Politics isn’t my realm. Well, yes it is. It’s your realm because you are a human being living under the laws and regulations of a government. You can’t be apolitical. Now, to be clear, you don’t have to be one of these people who thinks that only one party is right about everything and spend all your time watching that party’s news channel or anything.
3. My vote isn’t important. This is technically true only insofar as your vote is very unlikely to decide an election. But if everyone responded to that reality by not voting, there would be no voters. More importantly, your individual vote may not decide an election, but the fact that you are voting is of interest to politicians. You want to know why politicians spend so much more time talking about social security than talking about the rising cost of higher education? Old people vote more than young people.
Hannah: How can you add politics to your writing without making it ABOUT politics?
All writing is political. There’s no way out of it. I think the challenge (for me at least) is to write in a way that isn’t didactic or simplistic. So for instance when writing Will Grayson Will Grayson, David and I weren’t like, “LGBTQ people should have equal protection under the law.” But we did try to write LGBTQ characters as fully and inarguably human, and to portray their love (whether romantic or not) as being just as real and good and meaningful as any other love, which ultimately makes the argument (I think) that LGBTQ people must have equal protection under the law.
Komonio: Sometimes when I try to add a political element to my stories, because I’m no specialist I’m afraid of sounding like a total idiot. What if someone who understands the situation reads this story and picks out details that are completely mistaken. Can you write about things you really don’t know and still sound professional?
That’s a very interesting question. I didn’t have to become an expert in cancer in order to write about cancer in The Fault in Our Stars, but I did read a lot of books and talk to a lot of people and do a lot of research. I think research is very helpful, but you don’t need to be fully immersed in a world for 20 years or whatever in order to write about it. That’s one of the pleasures of imagining. That said, I don’t really see research and writing as separate activities. Writing is part of research, and research is part of writing.
Abbie Benci: Do you believe that media has more of an effect on our view of politics, or our relationships with family, friends, and acquaintances?
I think people shape political views more than the media, but it’s a very complicated relationship between people and the media, because the media is made up of people, many of whom we feel like we know. I try to be conscious of this when talking about politically-charged topics in YouTube videos, for instance.
Rebecca Griffith: If you could change anything about America, what would it be?
I would take the Dutch health care system and implement it here. I think that would have the most immediate effect on quality and length of life in the American population.
The second thing I would do is make education at public universities free. Both of these things would require dramatically higher federal income taxes, so I guess I’d have to raise income taxes as well.
The Empty Child: Do you have any tips for someone looking to try to actually get their thoughts down before writing a story? I am trying to plan out my story before I write it, and so far I only have an outline, and character descriptions. What else will help?
The only way to start a story is by writing it. Once you’ve outlined and written about the characters, you’re already writing the story; you’re just scared to “start,” because that seems momentous. But it isn’t. Writing a story isn’t an event. It’s a process. You’re already in that process. It seems to me the next step is to start putting one word in front of the other and trying to tell the story you want to tell. You don’t need to keep any of the words you write, so you needn’t put pressure on yourself to make it perfect. Many days I’ll write 2,000 words and keep none of them. That’s all part of writing.
Amana: Hey John, I wanted to know how dedicated you were to writing in high school and college. Did you know you wanted to be a writer then?
I was not the kind of kid who did any work outside of class of any kind, but I did write (and read) quite a lot in my free time. I wrote several stories in high school, including one very long story about two gay guys who owned an illegal pet store in a suburb of Orlando, and spent a lot of time writing and reworking that story in particular. In college, I stopped writing outside of class (although I wrote several stories for a fiction writing class) until my senior year, when I wrote a 30,000 word story about a newly ordained minister traveling home to officiate a wedding.
In retrospect, I think it was extremely important to me to be writing outside of class, because it meant—even though I didn’t really think about it this way at the time—that I was passionate about writing, and willing to work very hard on it.
Risa: Do you ever get really discouraged or just plain lazy and find it hard to get to writing? What advice do you have for people dealing with that?
Yes, I get discouraged all the time. I get discouraged almost every day. To quote the great Robert Frost: “The only way out is through.”
Angie: How do you pick the “big questions” that your books usually center on?
They’re big questions that I’m interested in, and also that have been asked for a long time by people I find very interesting. So questions like “Why is suffering unfairly distributed among humans?” or “Is meaning in human life inherent or constructed?” are very old questions, and I don’t labor under the delusion that I’m bringing much new to those conversations. But I want to ask them anyway, and think about them in the context of all that I’ve read and heard about them, and one thing I love about young people is that they are able to look at those questions without fear or irony. That helps me to look directly at the questions, too, and I’m very grateful for that.