Considering the book he’s notorious for writing, the topic of Neil Strauss’s latest tome will surely raise some eyebrows. How he wrote it should not.
Strauss’s mega-bestseller The Game became ground zero for the early-aughts pickup artist renaissance, inadvertently teaching women to be wary of dudes who playfully insult them while wearing a statement hat. It also completely changed Strauss’ life, even before it became a phenomenon. In his new book, The Truth, the adventurous author explores perhaps the last thing a pickup artist might want to know: How to make a romantic relationship work. While the underlying topic is something of a sea change, the methodology will be familiar to anyone who has read Strauss’s work. In uncovering The Truth, Strauss again served as his own human guinea pig for a series of highly unorthodox life experiments. It’s not only how he prefers to work—it’s how he prefers to live.
The Truth, like its predecessors The Game and the disaster-preparedness memoir, Emergency, did not begin as a book. All three were real-life experiences that at some point morphed into something more. Over the course of a long career as a reporter and an author, Strauss has learned to chase his inspiration wherever in the world it leads him—whether the experiment turns out to be a book or not. The only constant on his assorted quests is that he’s always paying close attention, and writing about what happens every step of the way.
“I’m always journaling because otherwise the memories are just lost to us,” Strauss says. “And it’s especially important if your life is your source material.”
While living through the experiences that culminated into The Truth, the author found himself in rehab for love and sex addiction, passing through “switch” clubs in Paris, staying at a love commune, and forming an ultimately unsustainable polyamorous quad. While the subject matter is frequently carnal, it speaks to Strauss’s go-for-broke willingness to exhaust every option in pursuit of improving his life. It’s something he’s been doing since he was a New York Times reporter in the late-’90s working on an immersive piece about becoming a stand-up comic—with the secret hope of getting over his shyness.
Co.Create recently caught up with the author to talk about the creative benefits of relentless self-experimentation, and why it’s important to trust the journey of life.
“What I really learned from The Game is that we can change,” Strauss says. “We don’t have to accept a given. We don’t have to say, ‘I’m like this and others are like this and I’ll never be like that.’ Who we are is completely up to us. Learning that probably opened the door to all kinds of radical self-improvement and transformation. And I’ve used ideas from The Game for everything from helping to teach charities how to attract and keep donors to teaching government agents how to keep our country safe. Things you would never expect. I think if you toss a small pebble into the culture, you never know where the ripples are gonna go.”
“Even if you’re not writing a book, a good thing to do in life is to go to great lengths to find a solution to a problem,” Strauss says. “In fact, if you don’t go to great lengths, you might never find a solution. If I think about the New York Times stand-up comedy article, my intention was to get over my shyness. So for me, it was like, I could pay and take a class or I can be a writer and get paid to figure this out. Either way, I was going to do it. However, I did do an article on learning to snowboard because I talked the weekend section of the New York Times into sending me to Vermont to learn how to snowboard, and I’d say the Mötley Crüe book was just an opportunity to tour with Mötley Crüe and experience that adolescent fantasy.”
“There is a woman who came to me with a book idea,” Strauss says. “She wanted to go on 30 dates in 30 days and write about it. I said, ‘What happens if you meet the guy you’re looking for on the first date?’ She said, ‘Well, I guess I’d go through the other 29 dates for the book. And I said, ‘Well, you’ve got it backwards. You’ve gotta trust the journey of life, which may be different than your plans. So if your intention is a book, you probably won’t get a good book out of it.”
“Emergency began with my own generational panic attack. There was that golden period of the ’90s where the Cold War was over and there wasn’t a massive threat to our existence. And then 9/11 showed us that an attack can happen on our soil, Hurricane Katrina showed us that we can’t defend ourselves, and all of a sudden I realized, shit, if the system breaks down I’m done,” Strauss says. “It just began with that idea of, ‘How do I keep myself safe in a world that’s globally falling apart?’ Then it built out from there. I actually had Kevin Reeve of OnPoint Tactical over to my house to refresh me and teach my friend and my wife urban escape and evasion. We all learned how to escape from handcuffs, how to jump out of trunks, how to escape from zip ties, how to pick locks, and how to survive interrogation. We all got waterboarded, tased, and tortured. It was a good time.
“But doing that actually helped me in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I was with somebody once when they passed out, so I used my EMT skills from Emergency to check on them and make sure they were okay, see whether we needed to call 911. If I see someone in a traffic accident, I have my jump kit in the back—and I can call 911 and stop the bleeding and take care of them until a medic arrives. I use that all the time.”
“Honestly, everything I’ve done is out of my comfort zone,” Strauss says. “It could range from approaching women the first time in The Game to some of the survival things I did in Emergency to literally some of the heavy, heavy rehab and psychological stuff in The Truth. If it’s inside my comfort zone, I probably won’t change or transform or get out of my learned behavior. I think probably everything is outside of my comfort zone because that’s where learning and growth happen.”