The Good Enemy Technique: How You Can Use What Drives You Crazy To Come Up With Meaningful Topics Readers Will Love
By Thea Fiore Bloom, PhD
Ever worry the topic you’ve picked is boring?
Does the worry get so huge that it sometimes results in zero writing?
You’re not alone.
What Makes For Boring Writing Anyway?
Boring writing doesn’t come about because of lack of talent.
Boring writing (or art) comes about because of fear.
We need to take our focus off our fear of being laughed at, and retrain it on what our reader needs.
Got any anger lying around?
Meeting The Good Enemy
When I realize my topic could be used as a sleep aid I sometimes turn to a technique called “The Good Enemy.”
Back in 2010 I was desperate to finish the outline for my doctoral thesis.
But I was stalled by fear and hiding behind bland chapter topics.
Professor Ginette Paris suggested I try to stop concentrating on what I agreed with and start focusing on what ticked me off about certain author’s 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.
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.
When it finally came time for my defense I was dumb struck 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.
Three morals of the story here:
1. If I can do it you can do it.
2. If you care about something enough to be aggravated about it, there’s a great chance you are not the only one who feels that same pain. 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.”
Need more proof that frustration can be a cure for fear-based topic selection?
How Ents and Elves Were Born From Tolkien’s Beef With Shakespeare
Look no farther than what J.R.R. Tolkien birthed as a result of his aggravation with Shakespeare.
Shakespeare’s decision to depict 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 used Shakespeare as “The Good Enemy.”
J.R.R.’s frustration became the creative fire that fueled his restoring 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 invented the Ents in direct reaction to what he viewed as Shakespeare’s big 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 ?
The Good Enemy Technique in 3 Easy Steps
You know that little notebook all creatives are supposed to carry to jot down inspirations? Put it to use to hastily record mini-rants as well.
When you need a topic, whip out your big, cheap spiral notebook; free write on what you initially scribbled out in the mini-rant notebook. (Try writing for 5 minutes on what artist/writer/person x included in their words or work that made you mad. Or try 5 minutes on what material you think that artist/writer/person x omitted to include or misrepresented in their work.
Now finish off by writing for 10 minutes on what would you would have liked to have seen instead and why. Your topic will emerge from this section and you may never need to mention the original source of the aggravation in your piece.
The Joy of Embracing Your Surly Side
It’s fun not to always fight negative thoughts. It’s a relief not to judge yourself for getting annoyed by our “negativity.”
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.
Tell your mind what my friend Briz always says to actual people at the coffee shop:
“Hey, if you got nothing good to say — come sit next to me. ”
— Doug Briz
This post is dedicated to Doug Briz and his beautiful wife Sally Hampton, two of the funniest people I’ve ever met.
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! 🙂