This time of year, every writerly website posts some version of a “best gifts for writers” list. I find a lot of useful and fun items on these lists, but I also see a lot of the same old stuff. It got me thinking about what writers really want. Besides publishing a book that garners a six-figure advance, lands a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, and/or is named a celebrity-book-club pick, what I believe many of us want most is the time and means to write.
In that spirit, here is a cheeky little post on what to ask for, or what to get another writer in your life, instead of the usual fare this holiday season.
Gifts writers really want
The Usual: Pens
Here’s the thing. Writers are notoriously picky about what they write with, and chances are, we already have a supply. I don’t want pens. Yes, I’ll be grateful for your thoughtfulness. But the truth is, that lovely, fancy pen you got me is going to sit in a cup of other lovely, fancy pen gifts because 1) it's blue ink instead of black, 2) it doesn’t feel right in my hand, 3) it’s fancy, so I’m afraid I’ll lose it, and/or 4) it’s simply not my regular pen.
What to ask for or give instead: Gift card to an office supplies store where we can stock up on our usual stuff. No, it’s not a glam gift, but we sure will use it. Bonus points if we can order online instead of wasting time and energy out in the crush of holiday and post-holiday traffic.
The Usual: Blank book or journal
Ok, I love a new journal as much as anyone. So much so that I already have at least four of them. They probably have a couple pages filled out in the front, but are otherwise empty. Best-laid plans, right?
What to ask for or give instead: Paid version of the software/app that helps track writing projects and notes. How can you go wrong with an organizational tool? Scrivener, Final Draft, Novelpad—there are a lot to choose from, so the best practice would be to specify, or ask your writer friend to specify, their top choice.
The Usual: Coffee mugs or shot glasses with writing quotes
Why are we encouraging bad habits? Kidding. A little. I know these are intended to be fun. Maybe you love things like this, and I don’t mean to sound like a killjoy here, but the reality is that these kinds of gifts don’t help me get any writing done.
What to ask for or give instead: Gift certificates to coffee shops. You’re putting money back in your/your writer friend’s pocket with this gift. Plus, there’s a built-in opportunity for a little low-key outing to pop in ear buds and put some words down at your favorite window spot while sipping your favorite hot beverage, at no cost. Win.
The Usual: Books
No-brainer, right? Not unless you/your writer friend are clear about what you want. Specific is terrific, otherwise you might end up with a novel you already have, or the memoir of a politician you can’t stand, or the third book in a series you love when you haven’t read the second yet.
What to ask for or give instead: Again, gift card. But not for Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Support local bookstores, or give a Bookshop.org gift card, where your purchases support small bookstores across the U.S. Bonus: If you or your friend have a book published, buying five copies to gift to others (I know, I know, I just said, don’t give books without asking what people want first) or place in local libraries or public spaces is a thoughtful way to help any writer get a little visibility.
The Usual: Pen holder
I have a beautiful blown glass pen holder that I received as a gift 20 years ago. This is one of those things that, if you’re into it, and if you write longhand instead of typing, you probably already have one. If not, it will just collect dust or get pushed to the side of your desk. I’m all about optimizing and organizing the writing space, though, so…
What to ask for or give instead: Here again is where specificity comes in handy. Do you get cold in front of the drafty window above your writing desk? A nice blanket or fingerless gloves might help, or even a small space heater for under the desk. Does your novelist friend suffer from back pain when sitting too long? There are some lovely desktop laptop stands on Etsy, or maybe a heated seat cushion or lumbar support would be nice. The goal is to make the writing space as comfortable as possible so you or the writer in your life will want to spend more time there.
The Usual: The niche, expected, obviously-a-gift-for-a-writer gift
See any of the aforementioned posts and listicles at any writing-adjacent website. Pencils with motivational #WritingLife messages? Cute, but how many of us write with pencil instead of pen? Tote bag with a writer's face on it? Also cute, but I could see this being eventually relegated to the pile of totes and reusable grocery bags in the back of my car. Many of these kinds of gift suggestions will suffice, but if you truly care about having or giving more time and energy to write, think outside the proverbial box.
What to ask for or give instead: Hire people to take care of the domestic things that distract or keep you/your friend away from the writing desk. Have meals delivered for a week. Find someone to clean the house, watch the kids, shovel the snow, or walk the dog. Eliminating chores puts time back on the clock and saves precious energy for making art with words.
I hope these gift ideas help replenish the time and energy you and your loved writers need to keep writing! If not, another option might be a writing course or retreat. Hmm, I wonder where you might find some of those…
Related reading: Writing tools you can’t live without
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