Please welcome guest Milo Todd to Writer Unboxed today! Milo is a Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction, a writing instructor at GrubStreet, a regular presenter at the Muse and the Marketplace and the Boston Book Festival, and a consultant for transgender inclusion within the classroom. He wrote THE FALCON OF DOVES, a novel about a trans pirate and his surrogate cis father, during GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator Program, where he was a Pechet Fellow. An excerpt of the story was published in “Emerge: 2019 Lambda Fellows Anthology.” Milo’s work also has appeared on Dead Darlings, Grub Writes, Everyday Feminism, and others.
A Moment of Betterment in Flux
I instruct writing sessions, talk on panels, and chat with fellow budding writers at events. “How do you know when you’re finished?” is the most popular question I’m asked. Or rather, as I can see from the worry in their eyes that mirrors my own insecurities, “How do you know when it’s perfect?”
I tell them it’ll never be finished because it’ll never be perfect, and it’ll never be perfect because your work is always a reflection of yourself. Your work can only be passed off to that place of permanence when you feel you’ve done the best job you can in your current state of being in this current state of time in this current state of the world.
I say this because I’ve experienced it many times myself. After countless editorial passes with the diligence of an unhealthy perfectionist, I finally noticed that a detail in a scene I’d long since believed to be safe was wrong. Set in the late 1600s, my novel offhandedly mentioned a sugar cube, but sugar cubes weren’t invented until the mid-1800s. I was not only frustrated for overlooking this fact for years, but I’d also recently sent that exact scene off for publication in an anthology. It was too late for an edit. That flaw would be in print. Even if my full novel was ever published, I’d know there was that version of the scene floating around the literary stratosphere.
When I was on a writing panel last year, the presenter read aloud my pitch as part of my introduction—which included the phrase “sea daddy,” the term of the time for non-biological father-son relationships on the sea—and the crowd gave a few suggestive, lighthearted hoots. “Please change that phrase on your website to ‘surrogate father,’” my agent asked me soon after, we readying for the submission process. “I worry it’ll be misconstrued if any of the publishers Google you before reading.” I changed it, but the audio recording of the panel still remains on the permanence of the internet.
There are also countless examples beyond my own experiences. The “text speak” of YA novels is now considered cringeworthy. Countless hist fics were left in shambles when Jack the Ripper was believed to have finally been identified. I still have a 90s hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with a typo on page 285. Even “Jurassic Park” has lost some of its glow since scientists learned that most dinosaurs likely quacked instead of roared.
Change is swift, inevitable, and constant. It is the enemy of words fixed in place. If you’ve done what you believe is the best job you can—in research, in craft, in editing, in beta and sensitivity readers, in community, in self-reflection—then the issue isn’t imperfection so much as the anxiety of change, even if it’s for the better. For once you’ve changed, once you’ve improved yourself, you’re embarrassed that your old self not only ever existed, but that everyone can still see it. [Read more…]