It was 2004. While driving to meet my writing group, I happened to catch an interview on NPR with Adrienne Young, a folksinger just starting out. She talked about her first album, inspired by some advice she’d gotten while struggling to make it as a musician:
If you want to do this with your life, stay focused and see this through. You’ve got to plow to the end of the row, girl.That simple phrase – plow to the end of the row – was enough to push Adrienne to continue. It became the title of both her album and lead song.
I can’t quite explain what that interview meant to me, hearing an artist choose to create despite the struggle, to push against fear and sensibility and make it “to the end of the row.” I’ve carried this image with me for years, the plant metaphor standing in for artistic endeavor, the plow the unglamorous slog needed to dig deep and make it to the end.
Sometimes I find it funny I’d choose a profession so bent on forcing me to wait, so full of uncertainty and disappointment. An almost foolish optimism kept me working, trusting that the next editor or the next agent or the next story would be the one to launch my career. I’ve haunted mailboxes and inboxes, waiting for something positive to come through. I’ve ceremoniously sent off manuscripts, chanting, “Don’t come back!” (entertaining postal workers, for sure). I’ve journaled again and again “this next editor is a perfect match!”, managing somehow to keep on plowing in midst of little validation.
After twelve years of writing and hundreds of rejections, I sold my first book, May B., a historical verse novel about a girl with her own challenging row to hoe. May’s determination carried me through a rocky publication experience: losing my first editor; the closing of my Random House imprint, Tricycle Press; the weeks when my book was orphaned, with no publishing house to claim it and its future uncertain; the swooping in of Random House imprint, Schwartz and Wade; edit rounds six, seven, and eight with editor number two; and finally, May B.’s birth into the world this January, only three months behind its original release date.
Though each row’s length varies, they’re still mostly lonely, not very straight and loaded with stones. But the soil has gotten better as I’ve worked it, and each little sprout I’ve planted has been stronger than the last. And I keep at it -- plowing, planting, hoping, dreaming -- because I’m made for this. And knowing this is enough to continue, enough for my work to thrive.