I sit at my desk, frowning at my laptop screen. (Contrary to my imagination’s offering, my laptop does not glare back at me.)
“Which tense,” I ask the room, “is best for this tale?”
No one replies. I am alone. (‘Forever and ever and ever,’ chants my Muse.) My sorrows are drowned in a gulp of cold tea.
I look at my nails (the paint is chipping yet I have vast hopes that it makes me look professional and efficient. I am delusional. It does neither.) “First-person, present tense is more intimate. You really get into the character’s head. However, it’s very constrictive. At least, it is when I do it.”
(A moment is spent in resenting writers who breeze through life with marvelous ease and appalling grace.)
“What about the third-person, past tense?” Ness lent back in her chair and sent a questioning look at her soft toys. They did not answer. Ness knew crushing disappointment.
She tapped her fingers on her desk. “It’s more freeing but it can seem … dry?”
“And yet, I like using first-person point of view,” I admitted, feeling a strange mixture of guilt and pride. “But it can occasionally seem immature and childish. And yet I’ve got to choose something or this Writing Stalemate will last forever and ever and then flop horribly and die.”
(‘Like your dreams,’ said my Muse in my head.)
“All right,” Ness says, brightening. “What about a compromise? What about third-person, present tense? The best of both worlds!”
She thinks about it for a moment, but soon enough, the glorious vision collapses in on itself and she sees a stark future, trapped in a tense she doesn’t want, with a story that tramps along like a lame dog with halitosis.
“That’s it,” you say with malice and a terrible look at all your books with all their smug, perfectly written tenses. “I’m doing second-person, present tense.”
You make a cup of tea. The tea brings clarity. You frown. You flounder. “Bother!” you exclaim. “But third-person is so … and first-person could be … and … and …”
“I should just write poems,” you say, staring at the gloomy wasteland of your decaying future.
“Please don’t,” your Muse pleads.
You don’t listen. “Or to-do lists. Or telephone books. Or obituaries – it would be impossible to choose the wrong tense with those.”
Your Muse snorts. “Actually, knowing you …”
Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.
– William Faulkner