Finding your muse: She’s always the last place you look

image When you consider that there were nine Muses in Greek mythology, you’d think finding yours would be pretty easy. In fact, I’m looking for mine right now. The Muses, as you probably know, were all extraordinarily beautiful women (remember, philosophers were all men back then), with names like Fallopia, Urethra, Tetracycline, Chlamydia, Herpes, etc., and were the daughters of mighty Zeus and the goddess of personified memory… uh, whose name escapes me. Each muse served as inspiration for different art forms, such as literature, oration, sculpture, music, Reuben sandwiches, and others.

I realize that last paragraph probably guaranteed that my muse is now hovering over our unsuspecting copy editor who, at this moment, is jotting down an outline for the next blockbuster literary franchise. But that’s OK! I like our copy editor. If she achieves fame and fortune with the help of my angry muse, I will be happy for her. I won’t buy her damned book, but I’ll be happy for her.

However, given that I’m Danish and not Greek, I’ve never subscribed to the idea of a muse, no matter how much Greek yogurt I shovel down my throat. That’s because, in the same way Kim Kardashian thinks she can still carry off a mid-riff tank top, I don’t want to rely on outside forces — or even good taste — to inspire me. As a columnist, I look to several sources of inspiration each day while, at the same time, trying to keep an eye out for inspiration in unlikely places. Often, it’s the unlikely that provides the most interesting perspective. Here are a few of the places I begin my day…

News reports:
Given that I work at a newspaper, my iPad has a CNN feed. Not just because we’re too cheap to have an Associated Press membership, but also so I can keep up on important breaking news, such as the latest on North Korea’s threat to launch nuclear missiles at Justin Bieber…

Sure, we all know that’s not an actual news story (Hey, even Kim Jong Un won’t risk engaging the full wrath of Canada). But by combining the first two headlines that came up on my CNN feed, it sparked an idea. Whether it could catch fire remains to be seen. The important thing is that Justin Bieber — and the world’s maple syrup supply — are safe.

Morning conversations:
I admit it: I’m an eavesdropper. When I go to the coffee shop in the morning, I listen for key phrases in other people’s conversations. I’m not necessarily listening for information as much as the exchange of ideas and opinions. Many times, other people’s perspectives, particularly if they are uninformed or one-sided, have given me ideas for columns, characters or dialogue. In addition, there have been times when my misunderstanding of what was being talked about led to an idea. For example, I once wrote a column on how a Chihuahua had been called to jury duty in Los Angeles because its owners had obtained a social security number for it in order to claim it as a dependent…

Uh, wait. Sorry — that really did happen. I just thought I misunderstood the conversation. But hey, it happened in Los Angeles! I should have known better! Anyway, you’ll notice I specifically said “morning” conversations. That’s because people tend to be more relaxed in the morning, before they head to work, and well before the day’s stress has set in. They are fresh or, quite possibly, a little hung over. What comes out of their mouths is generally more interesting than what comes out at the end of the day. Assuming they aren’t a competitive eater.

Whether it’s standard newspaper or magazine advertising, television or radio, how many times have you found yourself shaking your head thinking, “The side effects are worse than the symptoms!” or “Do that many people really suffer from unsightly ear hair?” or “Why is it that TV commercial husbands are always balding and overweight while their wives look like fitness instructors?” Granted, these are questions actually has nothing to do with finding your muse; they are just things I’d like answers to.

Which isn’t to say you can’t find inspiration in advertising. I recently heard a radio ad offering treatment for TSAD (Teenaged Social Anxiety Disorder). Symptoms include: a lack of confidence, irritability, mood swings and resistance to family outings. Thinking back on my teenaged years, being told we were going on a family outing was like hearing I had just sat on a petri dish in a level-four bio-hazard lab; my hope was that death would come quickly and without mercy. My point? This commercial got me thinking — a condition for which the only available treatment is to write about it.

These are but a few of the places I find inspiration. As a writer, you are already hardwired for observation. Whether it’s at the coffee shop, helping out at your child’s pre-school, at the local post office or from somewhere completely unexpected, your muse is always waiting.

Assuming it hasn’t gone off in search of some Greek yogurt.



(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation and a member of the writing team at Long Awkward Pause. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble. Disclaimer: Even if you choose Ned’s book for summer reading, you should still use sunscreen.)

Published by

Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

64 thoughts on “Finding your muse: She’s always the last place you look”

  1. Thanks for this ever-so Earl Grey spewable post, Ned. It was just what I needed this morning, having awakened with an overwhelming desire to wipe down my keyboard once again. And thanks for being so informative. I now realize that I have already MET several of those Muses, and just didn’t recognize them at the time, being somewhat involved with sorting out various problems they may have caused, none of which had anything to do with inspiring me to pen a best selling novel!

    I’m taking notes, though, on all your brilliant ideas for inspiration. Sadly, having tried at least a couple of them, I remember being inspired all right…to jump off a tall building! Still no help on the writing front. But I was probably doing it wrong, so I’m willing to try again. I’m nothing if not stupid…I mean…persistent.

    Seriously, sort of, thanks for another great Friday column. I really do learn a lot from your posts. For instance, I now know which cleaners are safe to use on keyboards without wiping off all the letters and symbols from the keys. When you get a chance, stop by Bookin’ It and let me know what sage words of wisdom or encouragement you might have to offer regarding my latest milestone. Example: should I use a machete or would the flamethrower actuallly work better? I defer to your professional opinion in matters of this nature.

    I’ll be back for more as soon as your next post pops up in my Inbox. (I’m a glutton for punishment!) In the meantime, keep thinking those weird thoughts and writing down those hilarious words. You brighten my day every time!

    1. Thanks, Marcia! I’ll definitely stop in. And if, God forbid, you ever do jump off a building, I will be deleting this comment so as to not be held accountable. So glad you’re persistent, with your writing and your refusal to give up on drinking Earl Grey 😉

      1. “To Whom It May Concern: If you are reading this, I am likely lying in a crumpled and really messy heap at the bottom of a tall building. I would like to make it perfectly clear that in no way, shape, or form, is this the fault of one Ned Hickson, nor was it inspired by his blog post of May 10, 2013. This I swear on a stack of Earl Grey teabags.”

        There. That should do it.

  2. You actually had me giggling a couple of times. Allow me to qualify that remark: I don’t giggle very often. I’m more the chuckling kinda guy. So I guess that should count as a compliment of sorts. Totally your call.

    1. I’ll take “compliments” for $200, Alex. By the way, great blog title and graphic. Cracks me up every time. Or at the very least makes me giggle. I always enjoy your stuff.

      1. Why, thank you Dear Sir! Allow me to compliment you once more, this time on your excellent taste.
        But credit where credit is due: In the case of my site, credit clearly needs to go to my muses Kona and Robusta.

        1. Lol! I hear you. Mine comes from Dutch Bros., which only sounds kinky. They’re an Oregon-based coffee franchise. They have become the Waffle House of drive-thru coffee places in the Northwest. Except without the waffles.

  3. It’s funny I am just eating my Greek yogurt as I read this and waiting for the muse to strike. As a fellow canuck I suspect Kim- Jong would never mess with us because he knows we are of our devious nature to sit quietly, nod in agreement, but once crossed we are very apt to throw a barrel of maple syrup at you.

    As a matter of fact Putin is shaking in his boots every time he sends his spy planes over our Arctic airspace. He knows I am watching him in fact I can see his house from here 😉

    1. I knew that about you Canucks. All of you carry foldable hockey sticks. And I think Putin is nervous because of how similar it sounds to Poutine. I think he’s afraid he may be eaten by French Canadians.

      1. I think he has nightmares about it! Horrible nightmares! He sweats about it so much that is the only reason he does not wear a shirt when he goes fishing!

        International relations specialists can say he likes to be photographed with his shirt off for posturing but we know the truth 😉

        1. HAHA! That’s so weird. I have nightmares about going on a fishing trip, baiting my hook, and then reeling in a shirtless Putin. Wow, that actually sounds like it could be a real fish. Probably in Alabama somewhere.

  4. Your blog is becoming a great weight loss tool for me…..the more I read, the less food I actually ingest because it is expelled onto my monitor. Love this once again….I think my favorite line (or at least the one that sent food at the highest velocity) was – “and were the daughters of mighty Zeus and the goddess of personified memory… uh, whose name escapes me.”

    You’re a brilliant man, Ned. 🙂

    1. Hahaha!
      Greek mythology references = highest velocity.
      For participating in this study, you will receive a free case of monitor spray. Not to be confused with what you are currently spraying your monitor with 😉

      1. This is going to be a very interesting study….although I forgot the damn Flax Seed!!

        I have documented the sound a partially chewed walnut makes when force “A” is used with enough exertion to make said walnut connect with the monitor.

        I’ll have my notes typed and annotated as soon as I can see what I’m typing. 😛

  5. Ah, but now we’re getting into Roman mythology, which is quite a different ballgame. Allow me to illustrate: The irresistible Greek goddess Aphrodite gave us a word with thoroughly positive connotations — aphrodisiac; while her Roman equivalent Venus provided us with the word venereal. I’m sure she’s still pissed about that…

  6. Ned,

    What if your muse is the band muse? Are each of the band members muses themselves who form one massive muse in their band? Are they merely singing puppets formed from the imaginations of pervy Greek philosophers who created the muses themselves and who inspired them to create muses themselves? Does this mean there are muses within a muse like the inception of muses. I’m so confused. Please help.

    1. Lol! My favorite sandwich, and the best I’ve ever had is right in Florence. Big Dog Donuts makes them for its lunch menu. That settles it. I’m ordering one right now…!

      1. Probably my favorite sandwich too, but not a big fan of Thousand Island dressing on them. Yummy. . .pumpernickel. . .sauerkraut. . .corned beef. . .order me one too!!

            1. Great choice! I had one with a cheeseburger at Dicky Joe’s a few weeks ago. Perfect fit. Aside from Dos Eques, it’s becoming one of my favorites. At least at work… 😉

                1. There’s a fine line between responsible and crazy, and you’re flirting with it. Leave. Now. Before the zombies attack. Or worse, the beer runs out…

  7. All along I thought your muse came from reading personal ads on Craigslist. I’ll be. I was wrong.

    My muse seems to only exist when commenting on your blog, at least lately. Dang.

  8. i find the muses that inspire my writing in all of life, from the moment i open my eyes to the moment i fall asleep again, oh and even then sometimes based upon my wacky dreams.
    ps – the muses’ father’s name was old man syphilis i believe.

  9. Holy crap, you can deduct EVERYTHING from your taxes, since you get ideas from EVERYWHERE you go. =) You sir, are brilliant! The world is your muse, Gaia is a fat mama though, not exactly a Greek portrait of sexuality.

    1. My wife and I like to sit places — mall, restaurant, etc.— and watch people, then fill in their dialogue. Yep, we have four children and no life 😉 Lol!

  10. One of my muses is the commissioner of chocolate from Finnish mythology. His name is Markus and he now lives in Hawaii where he is pursuing a bachelor of fine arts degree.

    From now on when people ask what I’m doing when I’m clearly trying to eavesdrop (this word looks like someone hanging from the eave of a house over two unsuspecting persons having a conversation and then falling and making their presence known, that’s a fun origin for a word) on their conversation I’m going to say “professional research.”

    1. I think even if you actually do hang upside down from an eave and drop onto the table of a couple having their morning coffee at Starbuck’s, the “professional research” card should play well.

      1. Haha! As long as I’m wearing a lab coat and football helmet.

        Maybe I’ll just wait for the gecko tape to hit the market, I’ll never fall then!

No one is watching, I swear...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s