Last week, we lost a legend. It's hard to hear the name Stan Lee and not think of his characters and stories. He not only transformed a genre, he created a culture behind some of our most beloved and influential characters. But beyond that, he was very present in the creation and development of all of his characters, both in comic books and in the movies. And, in light of his passing, it only seemed appropriate to reflect on some of his quotes with regards to writing. Here are five takeaways from the life and career of Stan Lee:
1. Don't take yourself too seriously.
"When I'm really at an impasse, I'll stop and say to myself, 'Come on, you jerk. It's just words on paper.'"
I find that writer's block is most prevalent when I am trying to find the right words. How do you express yourself in the best possible way? But I love this quote -- and this lesson -- from Mr. Lee. You won't find the right words if you don't have any words at all. And really, they are just words on paper. There's nothing magical about them, at least not yet. It's better to write any words down than to sit in front of a blank screen wondering how best to express yourself.
2. Practice and learn your craft.
"The only advice anybody can give is, if you wanna be a writer, keep writing. And read all you can, read everything."
If you're new to writing and wondering how to start, this one's for you. It really is this simple: Read, and Write. Read everything you can get your hands on -- bad or good -- and write everything that comes to mind. Most of it will be bad, yes, but it always helps move you forward as a writer.
3. Enjoy the process.
"To me, writing is fun. It doesn't matter what you're writing, as long as you can tell a story."
Writing should be fun. Does this mean it's always easy? Does this mean that every minute is going to be enjoyable? No to both questions. Sometimes it is a slog, but hopefully you get through those tough moments and when you look back you realize there isn't anything you'd rather be doing.
4. In writing characters (especially super-human characters) allow your audience to connect with your character's humanity.
"... it became fun because I was now writing the kind of stories I wanted people who had real -- I felt real personality."
This one is so important. We often want to create our characters as "different." Because if they're "different," then they're set apart in the mind of the reader, right? Maybe not. We remember characters who are like us, who have the same experiences, who respond similarly to the same circumstances. We connect with characters of all races, genders, species, etc., when there is something for us to connect to. And it's our job as writers to give our readers that connection point.
5. Always experiment with your story.
"I think it's just the challenge. It's not that all my life I've wanted to do characters [in Marvel], because I never particularly thought about it, but the challenge of saying, "How could they be done differently that may be more absorbing or more effective?'" [Read the whole NPR interview]
We get very attached to the idea of what we want our characters or storylines to be. Often, we practically write the whole story in our mind before a single word goes onto the page. And in our mind, it makes complete sense. But what if it doesn't make sense once it's all written out? We have to be willing to work with our ideals. And, if we come to a plateau in our story, perhaps it's time to ask the question, "What if?" What if this character quality was different? What if X happened instead of Y? These questions, these tweaks in the story or character, can lead to breakthroughs we couldn't possibly imagine had we not opened our mind to the unknown.
As I mentioned above, Stan Lee will be missed. But his legacy will live on, and his lessons and practices can help us become better at our own craft. Are you wondering how he even got into writing? Check out the video below to hear his own origin story, in his own words.