By Professor Constantine Koutsoutis
My first forays into serious writing were thanks to the influence and outlined philosophies of the punk scene in which I spent almost all of my teenage years, which emphasized a do-it-yourself attitude and approach towards anything. To me, that meant writing and publishing, so in college, I ended up participating in fanzines and online blogs, writing about the records I listened to, the things I thought about and experienced, and the concerts I went to. One “’zine” and website led to another, and at one point I was balancing an MA program with a small but dedicated roster of regular freelance writing contacts and jobs, as well as an office job that left me alone for long stretches of time, allowing me to pound away at the keyboard. I started teaching after graduate school, still writing, and after here I’d moved on to editing and proofreading materials for other people, a regular gig at a startup doing community management and a daily column about technological applications for freelance life.
Over time, I ended up freelancing less and less, and teaching more and more, but throughout the whole thing, I never stopped writing. I ended up writing and publishing other work. I actually wrote and published fiction myself or through others (I wrote essays, short stories, a few novellas, and even some comics!), and I worked on my teaching. I periodically did freelance work, in particular editing a fellow writer’s book manuscript last year and pitching some nonfiction work to various publications on and off, but for the most part I’ve written for myself, focusing less on trying to get published by other people in their magazines and books, and more for my own work to stand on its own.
It’s hard. When I freelanced in college I made very little money doing it, and nowadays, there’s even less money in it. Too often I worked for recommendations, for copies of the magazines I appeared in, for copies of records or books I reviewed. Once I got paid in comic books, and another time an editor dropped me from a publication for questioning why we were being cut to less than minimum wage, again. Even now as I focus on writing, I do it knowing that a life of wanting to be the next Hemingway or Steven King is almost impossible. It’s a long hard fight to be a professional writer for a living.
So why do I do this? Why do I keep writing, submitting, editing, self-publishing, and more, in the face of that? Especially since it’s just so hard, to deal with writing, rejection, submitting, re-writing, re-submitting, and failure? Especially as I’ve become less just a “writer” or a “struggling writer” (of which there are a few hundred thousand in New York, trust me) and more of a “teacher and writer,” finding out how much I not only love teaching, but also getting better at teaching writing to create all-round better classroom experiences for the people who are listening to me.
I couldn’t tell you, honestly. The closest I can get to is that I can’t help it, I just have to do it. I have to write, and I will continue to write and put stuff down on paper or on the computer in some form as long as I can, building a creative voice while, at the same time, working to help students build their voices.