advice for writers

Who is Neil Strauss? And How Did He Get Hundreds of Women to Sleep with Him?

This post is the FOURTH in a series of mini-biographies that chronicle the power of the memoir. Some of the stories are great and inspiring; some are tragic and teachable; some are about ordinary people just like you. Maybe after reading them, you’ll consider writing your memoirs.

Who says you’re allowed to take lessons in motorcycle riding but not in interacting with women?
— p. 247

It’s a widely known fact that to defeat the enemy, you must know the enemy. You must understand his habits, pigeonhole his strategies, and keep him closer than you do your friends. That’s why after so many years I finally had to read that holy grail of man-Bibles: The Game, by Neil Strauss. I thought if I knew what to look for in a pick-up artist, I could avoid becoming his target (or at least his victim). Plus, it’s much easier to disparage a person or a set of principles when you can speak about them intelligently. Meaning, it’s not fair to criticize/condemn ANYone or ANYthing without having that firsthand experience, right?

So, this week I read The Game. New York Times bestselling author Neil Strauss (code name “Style”) published in 2005 this pseudo-documentary about an underground movement among young (and not so young) men training each other on the best way to score. The definition of scoring changes: it might mean to “number-close” (get a woman’s phone number), kiss-close (make-out with her) or f***-close (yeah, that one) … the only real goal (beyond success) being to do so as quickly as possible, and with as many other witnesses as you can muster to later bow down and slobber over how amazing you are.

The thing is, as disgusting as the premise is, by the end of the story you feel pretty sorry for these guys. “Sarging” as the term goes (to “sarge” is to go out clubbing and hunt down women) more or less comes to ruin these men’s lives. It’s not the typical douchey jock who’s playing the game, but quiet, nerdy, unattractive men who have never had the confidence to even approach a women before (almost all of them enter the game as virgins). While, yes, over the course of two years they manage the minor miracle of sleeping with hundreds of women each, it doesn’t exactly make their lives any better. The original ringleader (codename Mystery) succumbs to a violent depression, two others feel so guilty and “defiled” in regards to their past misdeeds that they run off and join seminaries or ashrams, and our narrator Style finally admits he’s just empty and lost. You actually cheer for him when in the last couple chapters, he meets the woman of his dreams and quits the game altogether. For a time, anyway.

Project Hollywood sucked in anyone with mental problems and scared away anyone of quality.
— p. 356

This radical 360, from loser to hottest-thing-in-LA (and that’s not an exaggeration; the men befriend Paris Hilton and Courtney Love), back to well, loser, had me forgiving them on behalf of women everywhere for all the times they’d taken home a one-night stand and never called her back. Or they called back, only to refuse to commit to monogamy and instead suggest that the girl-of-the-week should hook up with the girl-of-last-week (while he watches or participates). You forgive them because while it’s never right to trick a woman into sleeping with you, ultimately the PUAs (Pick-up Artists) tricked themselves into thinking the playboy lifestyle could be personally fulfilling. Instead, it’s exhausting. They live in a pigsty mansion where even the stains have stains, ruin their closest friendships, cut ties with their families, lose jobs, and flunk out of school, all while investing every shred of their self-validation in how many women they “close.” They become robots and clones of the PUA gurus. There’s beaucoup money to be made on ebooks and seminars, but no one escapes happy.

We may have been supermen in the club, but on the inside we were rotting.
— p. 204

My takeaways: Ladies, if a guy approaches you and tries to run the Best Friends Test, entertain you with a magic trick, or ask if you saw the two girls fighting in the parking lot, walk calmly in the opposite direction. These men aren’t dangerous predators; they’re lonely, and kind of sad, and you deserve better than that. Gentlemen, if studying the PUA Way gives you the tips and tools to improve your self-confidence and skills with women, then by all means improve yourself, but for everyone’s sake, don’t ever take yourself that seriously.

Since The Game, Neil Strauss has written several more books, including a sequel that details his subsequent inability, post-seduction community, to stay monogamous to the woman he eventually married. I haven’t read it yet, but plan to. For all its faults, The Game is a hell of a good story. I couldn’t put it down! And that’s the business I’m in—telling good stories.

Advice for writers: these 5 steps take your book from idea to implementation

Writing is work, not inspiration.

One day in summer 2010, I was sitting in the audience at Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program, and feeling every fiber of my being internally resist against everything that the four well-established authors on the panel were saying. Little wisdom chunks like “Writing is work, not inspiration” sounded miserable to me.

To that point, I’d been the artist who painted when I felt like it, wrote when the spirit moved me, and indeed considered myself all-around “inspired.” Because such activities came easy to me, I never thought art or writing was something over which I should have to sweat. THEN I STARTED AN MFA PROGRAM AND BOY HOWDY. Let me tell you, writing IS work.

Naropa Summer Writing Program 2010: When I still thought I knew everything.

Naropa Summer Writing Program 2010: When I still thought I knew everything.

But! It doesn’t have to be the kind of scullery-maid drudgery to which Cinderella’s evil stepsisters sentenced the one blushing blonde among them. Writing can be, should be, and is all kinds of awesome fun—and it’s hella more rewarding than any other “work” you’ll do today. So let’s get started!

Follow these five steps to take your book from idea to implementation:

  1. When you do get that spark of inspiration, write it down immediately. The physical act of writing turns ethereal thought into visceral muscle memory. Then that great idea is more likely to stay present and active in your conscience mind, where the wheels can spin your straw into gold—meaning you get to keep your baby (aka, your book)! Rumpelstiltskin, anyone?
  2. Talk to people about your ideas. Don’t talk their ears off, and don’t bore them—there’s nothing worse than alienating those who stand to be your first fans. But the more you discuss your plot, the more confident you become in it. When people poke holes in your story, you know where to fix the leaks. Try out different character traits, and take polls on whether they sound believable. Allow real people to inspire your protagonists' fatal flaws—it makes them relatable!
  3. Do your research. Think you’re already an expert, but you need a few more details to make a scene really come alive? Turn to the books that already exist. Walk into a library. Close your eyes. Stick out your hands. Walk slowly (SLOWLY) around, letting your fingers guide you up and down the shelves, over spines, caressing covers, until they happen upon the perfect resource. This is called bibliomancy. Just don’t use it as an excuse to grope people (without their consent, anyway).
  4. Write, and write some more, and build writing into your schedule like you would grocery shopping and doctors appointments. Never miss a writing appointment you’ve made with yourself. When you need a break, read. The only way to become a better writer is to read great writing. Read mainstream fiction, and popcorn lit, because these have made it into the cultural consciousness, and it’s good to know what’s influencing the face of fiction. But read deeper. Read the classics. Troll the internet for books with a cult following. They’re always just about to be the next big thing.
  5. Remember that the worst thing you have written is better than the best thing you have not. You can spend your life doubting yourself and your ability, or you can in the immortal words of Nike “Just do it.” Godspeed.