Unless you’re an editor willing to wrap up a book deal and set it under a tree, consider one of these eight great gifts – from stocking stuffers to more substantial – for the struggling writer in your life, or the reader who might like to have a go at it:
1. Have you used a Pencil Pouch lately?
Mine (photo below) was given to me by the amazing Emma Clayton, and it moves from my backpack to my purse along with my journal and my computer. She filled it with a pencil and pen, a pencil sharpener with a good little heart-shaped eraser, a highlighter, and post-it notes. I added a nail file (all that working with paper dries nails) and a Tide Pen (a trick a journalist shared with me when I splashed a small dot of coffee on my sleeve during an interview). Yes, I DO imagine sitting at a 3rd grade desk every time I open it. For most writers, that’s a good thing.
The expensive alternative: See #2 below.
2. The Pen is Mightier than the Sword, if Not Quite as Mighty as the Keyboard
Choose an extravagant one your giftee wouldn’t likely treat themselves to, one that writes well and comes to hand nicely. Add a note of optimism about the books they’ll soon sign with it! It will so remind them of you every time they pick it up that before you know it, you might find yourself reading “For the Gifter of My Favorite Pen” on a dedication page. Mine is silver, and it came in a tell-tale turquoise box, from my mom.
The expensive alternative: The mighty keyboard with attachment computer.
3. High Quality Caffeine and Appropriate Drug Delivery Paraphernalia
It’s the primary fuel for writers, after all. A bag of good beans, a bur grinder, a pour-over set and a beautiful mug. A pretty personal-sized teapot that will look nice on a desk. Or the goofy stuff: the mug that says “Writers Block = When my imaginary friends won’t talk to me,” “Go Away, I’m Writing,” or a wonderful writer’s quote, like T.S. Eliot’s “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
The expensive alternative: An expresso machine. One of the automatic ones you just stick your cup under, so we don’t have to look up from our manuscripts.
4. A Room of One’s Own
…or if that’s not in your budget, a Gift Certificate to a Favorite Coffee or Tea Shop. It turns out, according to a recent study, that the best amount of ambient noise is the volume found in your average coffee shop, so go ahead and go for the less expensive alternative here.
The expensive alternative: Definitely the room.
5. An Ornament
But not just any one. Your writer friend’s book jacket on a miniature book. I think all you need is a small piece of wood, a jpeg of your friend’s book jacket, a printer, some glue and a hook – but you’d have to ask my mom’s best fried, Dritha McCoy, as mine came from her. (Photo to come, when I get the ornaments out, which my son has forbidden me to do until he gets home.)
The expensive alternative: There is no expensive alternative; this one is so touching that it cannot be improved upon with mere infusions of cash.
6. Software and Paperware
My favorite writing software is Scrivener’s, which allows writers to open a manuscript, outline, inspiring photos, and notes for writing a scene in a single window, and drag and drop scenes or entire chapters. Seriously, this is the best writing software I’ve found for folks writing book-length works. My favorite paperware: John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. No, I’m not getting paid to say this.
The expensive alternative: The software installed on the expensive attachment computer mentioned in #2 above. But if I could only have one or the other, I’d take the book.
You did know this was coming, didn’t you? You can’t write well if you don’t read broadly and well. A hardcover signed by the author, makes a particularly nice gift. Check out your local independent bookseller on indie Saturday, coming a week from today. Local authors including the likes of Neil Gaiman and moi will be helping out at their local stores, and happy to sign books and chat. I’ll be at Books Inc. in Palo Alto — please come say hi!
The expensive alternative: A whole private library. Private librarian optional.
8. A Journal
You did know this was coming, too, didn’t you? A journal is so liberating for a writer, because it’s not meant for public consumption. I personally love moleskines, because they’re small but have room for lot of words, and come with a handy pocket at the back for storing inspiring little bits (and, ok, a photo of my husband and kids).
The expensive alternative: Have you been journal shopping lately? Those swanky leather ones cost a fortune.
Do you really need an explanation here? Okay, then: something expensive, so we writers can sell it to pay our rent.
The expensive alternative: This is the expensive alternative.
10. Your Support
There is nothing you can do for a writer that will be more valued than offering your support for his or her writing. Value the fact that your friend is trying to write; it’s harder than it looks, by a margin. Help him find time to do so. Read her work, and share it with others. Leave comments on his online pieces. Use that Facebook “share” link. Mention something she’s written to friends. If your friend is book-published, mention his book to your local librarians and booksellers, gift it to a friend … or two … or twenty. Blow the dust off your own copy and put it where your holiday visitors will see it, and perhaps ask about it, or even pick it up and read.
The expensive alternative: See the expensive alternative to #5 above.