Pixar has a lot to say about success. Since Toy Story‘s debut in 1995, the animation studio has maintained an impressive track record, pumping out critically-acclaimed movies on an annual basis. Is it possible for you and me to achieve that kind of success, too?
A few years ago, one of Pixar’s artists released an unofficial compilation of writing advice called Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. As it turns out, the secrets of storytelling tend to reflect the secrets of success in real life. Whether you’re a writer or not, you owe it to yourself to take one minute and consider how Pixar might make you more successful.
Lesson #1: Persistence Trumps Talent
You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
If stories have taught us anything, it’s this: success is defined by adversity. More specifically, success is victory in the face of adversity. Without it, success is at best unearned. At worst, meaningless. This means that obstacles, hardships, and failures are all part of the game. There’s no escape.
Don’t let that dishearten you; in fact, it should encourage you. Success favors the relentless, not the talented. But more than that, the sweetness of success comes from the tears and sweat that were shed getting there. Just as a story that lacks an antagonist is boring, success without adversity isn’t much of a success at all.
It doesn’t matter if you win or not. What matters is that you try anyway.
Is your persistence bogged down by a lack of motivation? The key is to slay fear, procrastination, and apathy. If you’re still feeling down, check out these TED Talks that explore why we struggle with motivation and these inspirational YouTube videos that will make you feel ready to tackle anything.
Lesson #2: Identify What’s Really Important
Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
Nobody ever gets it right the first time around. All first drafts need to be edited. Extraneous words need to be excised, sloppy ideas need to be refined, and unnecessary clutter must be cleaned up. It’s this process of cutting away the fat that results in a work of beauty worthy of praise.
Concerning life, we all have unlimited desires but finite resources to fulfill those desires. There’s only so much time in the day, only so much money in the bank. The truth is, if you want to succeed at something, you have to accept that you can’t succeed at everything.
What matters to you most? Decide what you really want, then cut away the rest. Think of it this way: everything up to this point in your life was your first draft. Now it’s time to revise. Get rid of the peripheral clutter that wants to pull your own personal story off track.
Lesson #3: Leave Your Comfort Zone
What is your character good at? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
Do you know why it’s called a comfort zone? Because there’s no adversity — and as we already discussed, there’s no success if there’s no adversity. Success is always outside the comfort zone and the only way to find it is to seek it for yourself.
If you were hoping that success would come knocking on your door, it’s time for a wake-up call.
Embracing conflict is key to personal growth. It’s the only way to exercise your “stress muscle” and it’s the only way to retrain your fight-or-flight response to meet adversity head-on rather than always running away. Remind yourself that challenge is good. If you ever lose heart, revisit Lesson #1.
Lesson #4: Know Where You’re Heading
Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Endings are hard. Get yours working up front.
Before you can aim for success, you have to define what success means to you. Is it to complete your CS degree? Do you want to form a profitable startup? Maybe your idea of success is to work from home while raising your kids to be the best they can be?
It can be anything, but what’s important is that you know what the end looks like. It’s just as important that you define success correctly. It can’t be vague and it ought to be realistic. Without an end goal, the steps you take are ultimately nothing more than meandering.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with meandering. As Tolkien once said, “Not all those who wander are lost.” There are times when meandering is fine, even necessary, but there also comes a time when you need to buckle down and make your way to the destination.
Lesson #5: You Have To Start
Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
Writer’s block is nothing new. Much has been written on the topic and much more is still to come, but the essence of it will never change: until your pencil hits the pad (or your fingers hit the keyboard), the story will never become a reality. In order to write a story, you have to write. A silly truth, but truth nonetheless.
And so it is with our goals in life. Fear of failure keeps us stagnant. We’re afraid to jump for our dreams because we might not make it. We think that not making it would be an end to those dreams. One day, when we’re ready, we’ll try for real. One day…
But the only day that matters is today. Most of us know that tomorrow rarely comes. Don’t let fear of failure hold you back from giving it your all. Put it down on paper, so to speak. If it doesn’t work, get another sheet and try again. The persistence in Lesson #1 has to start some time. Why not now?
Lesson #6: You Have To Finish
Finish your story. Let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you’d have both, but move on. Do better next time.
It’s one thing to give up because you failed. It’s another thing to give up even before you finish. There are millions of writers — myself included — who have half-written tales collecting dust in the attic. Until those stories are capped with THE END, they’re as good as unwritten.
Some of us have no trouble “giving it a shot” but regularly struggle to “see it through to the end”. We’re willing to test the waters with one toe but never willing to dive in and invest ourselves fully into what we want to do.
For you, this might harken back to Lessons #2 and #3. Maybe not. Either way, it happens and you never finish what you start. What can you do about it?
There are no shortcuts here. Nobody can write your story for you. Nobody can run a marathon for you. Nobody can build up your company for you. The secret to success is being so invested in what you want that you won’t let anything get in the way of reaching that point where you can say THE END.
Maybe there’s a reason why Pixar’s films are frequent winners. Maybe their approach to storytelling is just an extension of how they approach life. If we harness that same kind of attitude and mindset, maybe we can earn our share of success in our own personal ways.
Which Pixar Lesson did you like the best? Were any of them eye openers? Tell us what you think in the comments below!