In a sense, I started my food business in order to deal with the issue of time in my life. Fiction writing is my vocation, my passion, but to date I haven’t made a semblance of a living from it. I realized early on that I would have to separate my means of earning a living from the work that meant most to me. In order for my time and energy to not be exhausted by meaningless labor, I saw that I would have to either find or create a situation in which I could, as much as possible, define the terms of my employment.
In retrospect it seems that I saw very little of this clearly or consciously at the time I was laying the foundations of my business. I found myself in a situation – working at a natural foods store – in which I could produce several items that people wanted. I needed the extra money, and it agreed with me to set my own hours and play music loudly while I worked.
Soon I began wondering what it would entail to do this kind of enterprise on a larger scale. I started investigating, applying for licenses, and marketing. At that time I was expending more time and energy on my work than I had when I held conventional jobs. Small businesses rarely generate enough income initially to pay their proprietors, so I also needed a wage. When the business first began making enough money to pay me, I could quit working for others, but I still put in close to 50 hours a week.
Perhaps 50 hours is a conservative estimate. I thought about my business day and night, numbers ran through my head even when I stopped paying attention to them. The flip side of this situation was that I also learned to work on my writing during kitchen time, because repetitive tasks left my brain free for other activities.
After nearly seven years, I now give the business about 25 hours a week, divided among kitchen production, shopping for supplies, bookkeeping and paperwork, and occasional deliveries. There is virtually nothing in my life for which I need to be on time (except buses). I start when I’m ready and finish when I’m done.
On an errand day, I like to write for a few hours in the morning, reach a stopping point, then go shopping before I return and write some more. If I had to show up at the commissary at noon, for example, I might finish what I was writing at 11 but be reluctant to start something new even though I had time, not wanting to hit my stride, then interrupt it. I’d probably waste the remaining 45 minutes.
I have learned to think of time and energy as inseparable considerations. Some days, particularly when I am writing, I can accomplish as much in an hour as I would in an afternoon under less favorable psychic circumstances. I believe the difference lies not in how thinly I divide my overall time, but in how I feel about my work.
Devra Gartenstein writes fiction and operates her natural lunch food business in Seattle.