Lessons From Walt Disney: For the many who Didn’t make it into Pitch Wars

The bad news is, I didn’t make it into Pitch Wars. (The odds weren’t good, but more on that in a minute.) The good news is, I learned how to GIF! So my posts should be increasingly more interesting from now on.


Now, back to the bad news. Something I didn’t mention about myself in my Bio is that I’m actually very good at math. (So good, in fact, I’ve had professors threaten to sell my brain to science once I’m dead.) When Brenda announced that over 1500 authors had submitted to Pitch Wars, with only 100 slots, (assuming even distribution of subs among mentors) that equated to roughly a 94% chance of NOT being chosen. And when you take out the assumption of even distribution (which you should when looking at facts) the odds became a lot worse.

The fact is, every author who submitted had five odds: 1 in however many subs received per chosen mentor. Some mentors tweeted their stats and I’ll use some of those numbers to show my point. The highest number of subs I saw was 184. It doesn’t take a math genius to see that the odds of being chosen by that mentor were less than 1%. (~0.5% to be specific.) And the lowest number of subs I saw was about 50. Which means that whomever subbed to that mentor still only had a 2% chance of being selected. As you can see, just by sheer volume of entries, the odds weren’t in our favor. Add in that inevitable subjectivity and it really came down to the right sub going to the right mentor at the right time, which (in my mind) takes some luck.

To the very few who made it, CONGRATS!

You're awesome

From the bottom of my heart, I’m so excited for you all! Some of my CPs and Twitter friends made in it, and I think you can see by above math that it was no simple feat. Good luck to you!

And for the many who didn’t make it, of which I am a part, let’s talk about what comes next. Now, you might be wondering, what the heck does any of this have to do with Walt Disney? I’m getting there.

Wlat Disney

As I mentioned before, I am a Disneyphile, through and through. One of the reason I adore everything Disney so much is because I have massive respect and appreciation for Walt himself. This year I read an in-depth, highly immersive biography about him, written by Neil Gabler. And oh, did it blow my mind.

Mind Blown

I don’t think a lot people are aware of the many, many, MANY struggles Walt faced before (and even AFTER) he became “Walt Disney.” When he decided he wanted to be an animator, it wasn’t even a thing at the time. He had to travel all over the nation to find like minded people who worked together to develop what primitive animation skills they had. There were times he lived out of his car and ate nothing but a can of beans every day, and had to pay a dime to use the shower once a week at the train station.

After he was able to land some freelance work, and eventually start his own company, he was back stabbed and doubled crossed by more than one co-worker/employee/associate. His first popular character Ozwald the lucky rabbit, was stolen by a distributor. He had dear friends turn on him in a boycott when he build a multi-million dollar facility for his employees after the success of Snow White. During the war, his company was commandeered by the government and forced to produce educational War films, while forbidding any work on any artistic projects. (For the record: Walt was happy to help the government, but not so happy that they restricted  WHAT he could produce for the four+ years they were in charge.) Even after Disneyland was build, he was called insane. He was told it would be a flop, or if by some chance it succeeded, would become obsolete when he died.


We’re all making this face, right? We all KNOW how that story ends, how wrong all his critics were. But did you ever stop to think that when ALL OF THAT was going on, Walt didn’t know how it would play out? He didn’t know that when his finest creation was stolen, something better would come in its place. He didn’t know that his films, after critics panned Fantasia and the handful of films after it, would later become classics. He even believed the Disneyland haters, and build a college (CalArts) because he desperately wanted something he created to outlive him. Can you imagine?

Really. Can you imagine being Walt Disney? I don’t think I can. I don’t think anything I ever create will be as monumental or influential as Walt’s contributions to American culture. But what if I’m wrong? The thing is, if I quit, if I let the next set back be my last, I won’t know. I’ll never know what I could have been.

So here’s what I’m gonna do now. I’m going to take a few lessons from Walt Disney.

One: I’m going to strive to make my next project, my best project. Walt was never happy with doing what everyone else did. He was the first to use sound in a cartoon. He pioneered color in animation, invented the “follow the bouncing ball” to synchronize music to film reels, and constantly pushed the envelop for realism in his films. Once he mastered something, it was onto the next big thing. How can we apply this as writers? Look at the weak spots of our manuscripts, of our writing technique in general and see where we can improve. Read articles and books about improving your craft, and take classes or webinars if you can. Stay true to your voice, but learn the rules and know when it’s ok to break them. Half the reason we entered Pitch Wars was because we were looking to improve, right? Not getting in shouldn’t stop us from striving to be better.

Two: KEEP GOING. No matter what happened, Walt was determined to succeed. He wouldn’t let himself quit and neither should we. The number of “noes” doesn’t matter. The number of setbacks doesn’t matter. If you want something badly enough, then go out and get it. Don’t let anything stop you.

Three: Surround yourself with good people. Walt couldn’t have become Walt without his few, loyal companions. His brother Roy, for one, never failed to help Walt when asked. His merchandising manager, Kay Kamen, was an honest friend and supporter of Walt until his tragic death. (Kay’s death, I mean. The man died in a plane crash.) We need to surround ourselves with support. Get good CPs that will tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are, and be honest enough to do the same. Vent to each. Praise each other. But most importantly, STAY TOGETHER. Grieving the loss of opportunity is normal. Taking time to be sad is ok. But if you let yourself be alone for too long, it inevitably leads to bitterness, self-doubt, and hermit-ness. (I’m coining this word. Feel free to use it.) So let yourself have a few days to be sad, but then don’t wallow. Pick yourself up, grab your CPs, and move forward.

Four: Dream big. Above all, remember that Disneyland (and everything it represents) started with a farm boy who had nothing but a paper and pencil. Walt once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I believe him. And you should too. Soldier on, friends. And good luck in the next phase of your journey.



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