Monthly Archives: November 2012

Don’t work hard, work soft

I love the term “soft eyes”. I first came across it in The Wire (“Refugees”, Episode 4, Season 4) and it has stayed with me since.

Det. Kima Greggs and her soft eyes, as seen in “The Wire”. Image:

In that episode, new arrival to the Homicide department Detective Kima Greggs is sent to her first crime scene. An experienced colleague advises her to use “soft eyes” – that is, to take a wide overview of the scene and let intuition and the subconscious come into play in order to spot things and make connections.

Getting bogged down or stuck in details is a problem shared not just by writers, or even creative types in general, but by anyone with a creative aspect to their work.

I am currently in the early stages of writing one of the stories in my work-in-progress short story collection. I had been floundering around for a few days, trying to work out the finer details of certain scenes.

Then I remembered about soft eyes. I zoomed out in my mind’s eye, brought the scenes into soft focus, and let my mind do its thing for a while.

Mentally, this process (or some variant of it) is what happens when you put on your soft eyes. Physically, you can help soft eyes happen if you sit back, close or half-close your eyes, do some slow breathing or shoulder rolls – anything that you find relaxing.

Linda Formichelli discussed a similar idea the other day on her blog The Renegade Writer. In a post titled “Are you pushing away ideas – and work – by trying too hard?”, Linda’s main points are:

  • Focus on the input, not the output: it’s easy to get caught up in producing output, but you need to feed your creativity by absorbing other material.
  • Go wide, not deep: this is the idea I mentioned above of not drilling narrowly into details at the expense of the bigger picture. As Linda says, this is intended to be an easy, relaxed process: “Just take [ideas] in and let your subconscious do the work.”
  • Be playful: anyone who is familiar with the techniques of Mindfulness will know this as a creativity-enhancing technique called “habit releasers”. Brush your teeth with the other hand, or go to the cinema and see a movie at random rather than planning and booking ahead. The idea is to get your mind “unstuck”.

These techniques also tie in with some good advice I have heard from Nuala Ní Chonchúir in her short story workshops: don’t get tied up too much with plot. Instead, just get writing, and plot will emerge. This to me is a related idea, as it too focuses on relaxing and trusting the subconscious.

Try it! And after you do, post a comment below. I’d love to hear how “soft eyes” works for you.

Guest post: Love letter to Germany (and Currywurst)

Today I’m delighted to feature a guest post by Kalle Ryan, Waterford / Dublin performance poet, humourist, MC of The Brownbread Mixtape monthly cabaret in Dublin, and possessor of a host of other talents. 

This article originally appeared in The Metro Herald, 17/11/2012.

Zeppelubil / Th. Haft / Torgau [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Schloss Neuschwanstein in Southern Bavaria, inspiration for the “Disney” castle (and more importantly, nice to gaze up at while you scoff Schnitzel).

These days when you think of Germany, you inevitably picture Angela Merkel’s Sauerkraut face and her corresponding punitive, penny-pinching proclamations. If you’re more of an old school German thinker, you may have thoughts of wicked World Wars and a land fabled for being humourless, yet funnily drawn to David Hasselhoff’s musical skills.

But those broad strokes are ultimately unfair to a country, that I believe, is home to some of the great unsung secrets and joys of Europe.

As a teenager I travelled the length of Germany in a camper van with my family. It was a remarkable holiday that left a deep impression that lingers to this day. What I encountered was a country of wonderful variety, breathtaking beauty, fantastic food and incredibly warm people (with mullets, a lot of mullets).

We entered the country from the northern city of Hamburg, with its eclectic mix of erotic shops and Liverpudlian musical history, and bombed down the Autobahn (poor choice of verb when talking about Germany, I know) towards the magical city of Berlin.

Berlin really felt like the New York of Europe to me, with its wonderful blend of fascinating German design, historical landmarks, reliable and punctual public services, delightful local beers, as well as cool, punk-influenced, left-leaning art on every other street corner. How could you not love a city that was run by punctual hippies?

By Rainer Z ... (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Our next stop along the way was Frankfurt, where I had a semi-religious experience as I encountered Germany’s legendary “Currywurst”. A char-grilled, flavourful sausage, sliced into discs and covered in a blanket of curried ketchup, then lightly dusted with fragrant yellow curry-powder. You simply have not lived until you have eaten this triumphant, teutonic takeaway treat. It is said that the secret to Germany’s continued automobile engineering success is founded upon a steady, streamlined diet of these curried sausages.

Sweeping south we entered the city of Stuttgart, home to the legendary Irish footballing victory over England in Euro 88. As an Irishman, the Neckarstadion ranks up there as a historical landmark alongside the GPO and The Hill of Tara. Stuttgart – a compact, cool city – is also home to the culinary delight of Maultaschen (German ravioli invented by monks to conceal meat from the Lord on Fridays). I recall thinking at the time that, if there were a World Cup for food, Germany would probably win that 1-0 every time too.

After several days of driving through swathes of the brilliant black forest, home to the legendary, delicious, unpronounceable Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, we arrived in Munich. Located in the southern province of Bavaria (County Cork’s spiritual German sister), Munich is a wonderland of ornate buildings, sunlit plazas, moustachioed manly types, ample bosomed matronly types and crafted glasses of crisp, bubbly Hofbräuhaus beer. Basically, it is what Heaven would undoubtedly look like if it were run by Germany.

By Mikelo (edited by User:Sashandre, User:Kozuch, User:Ras67 and User:MLWatts) (File:Black Forest gateau.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Gateau): much easier to eat than pronounce.

A short jaunt down the road, bordering Austria, was the charming town of Füssen, our final stop. Nestled up in the Alps above the town is crazy King Ludwig’s Schloss Neuschwanstein, widely known as the inspiration for the Disney castle, or, if you’re a Britpop fan, the cover photo of Blur’s ‘Country House’ single. Regardless of the imitators and appreciators, it’s a stunning sight and worth a visit, if only to sit down and eat some traditional Schnitzels in its shadow. This delicious, deep fried, breaded veal dish was invented by some genius from nearby Vienna, who should clearly have won the Nobel Prize.

While this might all sound like a food and drink travelogue / memoir, what it really amounts to is a love letter to a much maligned country that has levels of complexity and beauty far beyond simplistic jokes about the war or our present predicament. I have been back many times since and Germany continues to reward and reveal. 

 We are, of course, in a recession, so if you can’t afford to travel to Germany any time soon, then I strongly recommend that you stick on a Werner Herzog movie, crack open a cold German beer, pick up some authentic sausages from your local German supermarket and have a Currywurst party at home. Who knows, it may even make you feel more kindly toward Frau Merkel.

(c) Kalle Ryan 2012



Applying corporate wisdom to the freelance world: seminar on Independent Publishing


Oliver Stone’s 1987 movie “Wall Street” brought corporate investment banker jargon to the wider world.

Multinational corporations are often derided for their use of “corporate-speak”. But as a former employee of multinational corporations, I have come to appreciate the value of some aspects of corporate wisdom. Two examples I wanted to write about today are outcomes and deliverables.

I recently attended a seminar hosted by Big Smoke Writing Factory in Dublin. The seminar was about Independent Publishing and the facilitator was Vanessa O’Loughlin, founder of and The Inkwell Group, and influencer of a host of other literary activities and projects around Ireland.

To my delight, both the outcomes and deliverables of the seminar were excellent, and I met some lovely new fellow writers to boot.

Getting back to the corporate-speak. Freelancers pay for all training and professional development out of our own funds, so we need to make sure that we get a return on our investment. The most useful definition of ROI for freelancing purposes is that used in the financial world: “The money that a person or company earns as a percentage of the total value of his/her/its assets that are invested.”

The corporate world also teaches us that ROI in professional development is best measured in terms of the following two factors, one “hard” and one “soft”:

  • Outcomes (“soft”) – something changes for the better as a result of you attending the training course. For example, your knowledge of the subject matter increases, you feel equipped to take specific actions, or you have a new qualification. If nothing changes as a result of you attending the course, there were no positive outcomes, and your money and time have been wasted.
  • Deliverables (“hard”) – the specific, concrete things that were promised in the course description and that you take home with you at the end of the day. For example, a pile of useful notes or handouts (“useful” is key here – we all know the horror of taking home stacks of handouts we will never look at again); new practical skills; or a piece of work that you were guided in producing during the course.

For me, the outcomes of the Independent Publishing seminar were:

  • A solid grounding in the various aspects of independent publishing, both print and digital
  • Knowledge of and confidence in implementing the practical steps in independently publishing my writing work
  • Awareness of the increasing significance of independent publishing in the literary market

The deliverables were:

  • A careful selection of useful handouts
  • 15 pages of my own notes
  • Individual advice from Vanessa

So, my ROI on the seminar has been very satisfactory so far.

Of course, it’s too soon yet to know whether the seminar helped with the ultimate outcome: getting published.

I have been considering for some time whether I should release some of my stories as standalone publications. Short stories lend themselves particularly well to the digital format, as evidenced by the success of Kindle Singles. As well as that, Amazon’s digital book sales exceeded their print sales in the US for the first time last year, so the market for digital definitely exists.

I’ll be posting regular updates on my adventures in independent and digital publishing. Watch this space.

PFO – please fight on

Rejection letters are a funny old thing.

When you start out as a writer, your rejections tend to be from smaller publications and lesser known websites.

After you have been diligently persisting for a few years, the rejections still come, but from loftier sources.

I recently received the following rejection letter from Ciaran Carty, editor of New Irish Writing, which appears monthly in the Irish Independent and has launched the careers of many prominent Irish writers, including Joseph O’ Connor, Dermot Bolger, Vona Groarke and Mary O’Malley.

The New Irish Writing page was started by David Marcus in The Irish Press in 1969 and is the longest-running creative writing feature of its kind in any Irish or British newspaper.

Ciaran Carty is also director of the Hennessy Awards. Work published in New Irish Writing is automatically entered into the prestigious Hennessy Awards.

So, after weeping onto my keyboard for a while, I’m now actually a bit chuffed that Ciaran Carty sent me a personally signed letter, even if it is their standard PFO. He even wrote my name by hand!

I will fight on.

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