Something Has To Give

You Want a Social Life, with Friends

By Kenneth Koch


You want a social life, with friends.
A passionate love life and as well
To work hard every day. What’s true
Is of these three you may have two
And two can pay you dividends
But never may have three. There isn’t time enough, my friends–
Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends–
To find the time to have love, work, and friends.
Michelangelo had feeling
For Vittoria and the Ceiling
But did he go to parties at day’s end?

Homer nightly went to banquets
Wrote all day but had no lockets
Bright with pictures of his Girl.
I know one who loves and parties
And has done so since his thirties
But writes hardly anything at all.

I first read this poem a few years back, during my first visit to my alma mater in thirteen years. It was hanging outside an English professor’s office door, probably as a warning to all of the students who were trying to do all three.

It has preyed on my mind ever since. I kept asking myself if I was truly dedicated enough to my craft. Would I be accomplishing more with my writing if I was willing to make the real sacrifices? Is this how I should be living? The one writer I know personally who has an actual book deal certainly devotes more time to it than I do.

Last week finally gave me an answer:

I had been telling myself since I read the poem that “friends” and “social life” doesn’t refer to bi-weekly D&D games, or the occasional brunch. And that’s probably true. Still, the point of the poem remains: you have to choose your priorities.

This blog should not have sat idle for nearly a week while I struggled with one post. And my other blogs shouldn’t be lying fallow.

I’ve been treating this like a hobby. A much-loved hobby, but a hobby nonetheless. I work an hour or two in the morning and/or evening, when I get a bit of downtime at my day job, but for the most part, weekends are my days off.

This can’t be a hobby. Not if I ever want to make a life of it. It has to be a job. The weekends are not my days off; they’re when I get the real work done.

It’s not going to be easy. The primary compensation for living in New York – i.e., working your ass off just to pay rent – is living in New York. Going out and doing all of those wonderful things we have to do here. I don’t think I can give that up entirely; this place will kill you if you don’t remind yourself why you love it occasionally.

Still. Time to shake up my priorities and see what dividends that pays me.



Filed under My Life, Writing Theory

5 responses to “Something Has To Give

  1. This is where I struggle too. I think, if I weren’t already married it would be easier to swear off that portion of my life and go for the other two. As it is though, I don’t want to ruin the relationships I have to create the career I want. I’ve had the notion in my head for a while of using my Saturday as an extra writing work day, and I think that might be the best course of action. The problem is, by the time Saturday rolls around I’m really ready for a break. Of course, it’s the sacrifice we make to be writers, and if you can’t make it then you’ll never ‘make it.’

    One thing you didn’t address here, but I’ve found for me and everyone else I talk to doing similar things is important is having a solid work space–a place that’s not the kitchen table on Saturday morning where everyone else is hanging out. When it gets down to it though, all these things are just excuses because writing is work and it sucks to think of working extra on your time off. What really differentiates professional writers/artists from hobbyists is taking that extra time and doing that extra work, even though it’s not easy or fun.

    • It used to be, though. I remember when I was a teenager, when writing was what I liked to do instead of watch TV. It all flowed so easily then. I would go into writerspace, and then I’d come out hours later and I’d have ten more pages written. Sometimes it still happens that way, but not often. It keeps getting harder.

      Same for you?

      Edited to add: And yeah. I would love to have a writing office. Maybe someday.

      • Yeah. I used to be able to just sit and write for hours, but usually now it’s harder than that. It seems for me like it’s an issue of all the other stuff going on in my life. I’m a lot busier with stuff other than writing now than I used to be, so when I get free time I feel like I need it to decompress from all the other stuff I’m doing. As a teenager, and even as a full time college student, I had plenty of time to do school, whatever part time job I had, play games, read, and write. Now, I have enough time to do one or maybe two things a day that aren’t directly work related, and one of those things has to be spending time with my wife. Still, I find some time to write, and I know I could find more if I make it more of a priority.

  2. I think it’s definitely harder when you have a spouse or SO who you live with… it’s not too hard for me to ruthlessly cut down on surfing the internet and watching Netflix to get my words out, but when you’re enjoying ambient hanging-out time with a person, going to get some writing done feels like putting up a wall.

    The one piece of advice I have for you is this: make plans. When those plans don’t work, make different plans. “I really have to write more” is one of those things that lots of people tell themselves. “I’m going to set aside 9-10 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday to write” is a plan. And if it doesn’t work, at least you’ll be able to figure out where it went wrong, and make a new plan.

    • Good advice for any endeavor. I already work a couple hours a day, so let’s see if adding Saturday to my working week helps.

      I’m just starting to worry that I’m going to have to start to jettison projects and focus on a few in order to get any finished. There are just too few hours in the day, but I want to do them all!

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