The Good Enemy Technique: Discover How To Wield J.R.R. Tolkien’s Secret Weapon
By Thea Fiore Bloom, PhD
This post will show you how to use the Good Enemy Technique to let go of anger, find your zone of brilliance, eliminate boring writing, (boring blog posts, boring newsletters, boring meetings, boring articles and boring workshops) and serve others – all at the same time.
What causes boring writing anyway?
Boring writing doesn’t come about because of a lack of talent.
Boring writing comes about because of fear.
If we want to write well we need to take our focus off our fear of being laughed at and retrain our focus back on the good stuff that lies beneath the fear.
But how do we find it?
Start by honoring what infuriates you.
That’s what J.R.R. Tolkein would do.
Let me give you an example from the life of the creator of The Hobbit.
How Ents and Elves Were Born From Tolkien’s Beef With Shakespeare
Did you know Tolkein thought William Shakespeare was a git, a sensationalist- a pox on literary history?
True, but why?
Well, for one thing, Shakespeare’s depiction of the traditionally intelligent elves/fairies of ancient folklore as whimsical airheads in A Midsummer Night’s Dream made Tolkien want to tear his ear hair out.
But instead of depilating himself, Tolkien had the last laugh at his writing desk by using Shakespeare as “The Good Enemy.”
J.R.R.’s frustration became the creative fire that fueled his restoration of elves/fairies to what he saw as their rightful place; as intelligent, noble beings in the eye of the public.
He accomplished this via his Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Tolkien also used his rage at William to invent the Ents in direct reaction to what he viewed as Shakespeare’s epic cop-out in “Macbeth.”
Our writing goals may not be as grand as Tolkien’s but our work can be authentic and lively if we occasionally ask ourselves:
What am I ticked off at and what can I create about it?
Need proof that frustration can be a cure for fear-based topic selection?
Let me share one example from my writing life.
The Good Enemy Technique: The Cure For Boring Art Blog Topics
Back in 2010, I was desperate to finish the outline for my doctoral thesis in mythology.
But I was stalled by fear and hiding behind bland chapter topics. At that point in time, my dissertation was a sleep-aid.
Professor Ginette Paris suggested I try to stop concentrating on what I agreed with and start focusing on what ticked me off about certain authors’ take on my topic.
“Push against the theory of others to find your own; think of other writers you disagree with as good enemies,” Paris said.
The next day I tentatively started typing on a standard take on my topic that always infuriated me.
I didn’t stop typing for 6 months.
The Good Enemy Technique is a powerful un-corker.
When it finally came time for my defense I was dumbstruck to see many audience members laughing with me– not at me.
Some were even crying over the interview-based material; material that blossomed out of my indignation at what past scholarship overlooked when it came to soul.
It was a miracle.
I went on to use the Good Enemy Technique in small projects like articles and blog posts to convert my snooze-inducing writing into fairly palatable stuff.
And I just realized the most popular post I’ve written to date (the one I thought would get me immediately tomatoed) was born from a mini-rant I wrote down in my little spiral notebook about how aggravating it was to hear some art biz experts say that we have to be on social media to succeed as creatives. If you’re interested, it’s now a podcast here.
Three morals of the Good Enemy Technique Story :
1. If the Good Enemy Technique worked magic for me, it can work magic for you too.
2. If you care about something enough to be aggravated about it, there’s a great chance you are not the only one. Take a chance on expressing something others think but never get to see in writing.
3. Our annoyance at a societal norm or another’s art or writing can act as a big red arrow that says “dig here for YOUR original idea.”
Here’s a simple, three-step way to use this technique to fire up your writing.
The Good Enemy Technique in 3 Easy Steps
Do you know that little notebook all creatives are supposed to carry to jot down inspirations? Put it to use to hastily record what pisses you off as well. Create a defacto “Rant Prompts” section at the back to record one-sentence summaries of things that infuriate you.
When you need a topic, flip to that section. Free-write on one. Or free-write on what artist/writer/person x included in their words or work this week that made you mad.
Now finish off by writing for 10 minutes on what they left out or what you would have liked to have heard them say instead and why. This will naturally lead you to write on what your approach gifts your reader with. Take your time here and focus on the good you want to bring into the picture. Your contrarian yet POSITIVE take will emerge from this section. So don’t skip it. If you journal long enough you’ll arrive at a wonderful, fully formed original idea and you won’t even want or need to mention the original source of your aggravation in your final piece of writing. Make sense?
Great Art Blog Topics Can Come From Embracing Our Surly Side
Embracing your surly side works wonders because frankly, it’s fun to not always fight negative thoughts.
Clients and students of mine who have done the Good Enemy Technique told me things like:
“Its such a weight off my shoulders to see my anger as valid! To see my anger as something that’s needed, and that’s a tool I can use to make my writing better and my workshops exciting, not boring!”
“It’s such a relief not to judge myself for my “negativity” for once and to get to revel in it, ha ha ha.”
Fortunately for us creatives, negativity is everywhere. 🙂
So why not retrain your brain to be on the lookout for new material?
Next time you encounter a thought that makes you want to break crockery, don’t be so quick to shoo it away, and start reciting affirmations.
Tell your mind what my old, fabulously surly, coffee shop-pal, Briz used to say:
“Hey, if you got nothing good to say — come sit next to me. ”
— Doug Briz
Want to make your art writing even better?
Here’s the most popular Charmed Studio writing article for artists.
Want more help? Treat yourself to one-on-one writing coaching with me to identify and strengthen your authentic writing voice.
You may also like these other Charmed studio posts:Writing Coaching Free Resources Subscribe
Are you up for exploring a little negativity? Why or why not?
Is it easy for you to come up with topics? What method seems to work for you?
Tell me in the COMMENTS below! 🙂
Join the hundreds and hundreds of heart-centered artists who get bi-monthly writing and marketing tips.
As my thank you for subscribing you'll get access to The Charmed Studio's Popular:
Writing Academy For Artists Toolkit