Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

My Highly Opinionated Gift Suggestions for the Writer in Your Life

Here’s my highly-opinionated view of gift-giving for writers. In case you’re wondering…and even if you’re not.

What Not to Give

Unless your writer friend mentions or asks for any of these things, stay away from:

  • Pens, pencils and writing implements of any kind. The fact is, we either already have enough, or we’ve got a really expensive favorite which you won’t want to spring for.
  • Notebooks, paper, diaries. For the same reasons.
  • “Writer” t-shirts, hats, tote bags, plaques, signs, etc. A teacher acquaintance once referred to these types of gifts for teachers – which usually included depictions of apples – as “crapple,” and the phrase has stuck with me ever since. IMO, items like these are like “crapple” for writers… Don’t do it.
  • The same goes for bookmarks, literary “action figures”, writing-related jewelry, bookends, etc. Um…yeah. Just don’t.
  • Printer paper, ink cartridges, toner or miscellaneous office supplies, and even stamps. These are rudimentary business items required by many writers who actively submit their manuscripts to agents, magazines and publishers.

    Giving these items is like giving a vacuum cleaner to your wife for her birthday. Don’t do it.

Think About Giving:

  • Books. Really. You can’t give a writer too many books…but not just any books. Buy the latest books available in the genre your writer friend specializes in. Writers need to be widely read in their field in order to keep up with trends. It’s impossible to buy all the books published in a given year in a particular category. You can help.
  • A Magazine or Journal Subscription. Ditto above. Get something in the writer’s field. I frankly don’t want a subscription to The New Yorker even though it’s highly respected. Give me Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog…

    Does your writer friend write poetry or literary fiction? Then a sampling of several different literary magazines might be on target. (It gets expensive ordering copies of litmags just to see if you want to submit.)

    Note: If your writer friend is anywhere beyond the beginning stages of writing, stay away from “how to” magazines such as Writer’s Digest, The Writer and Poets & Writers Magazine. (Unless they ask, of course.) Ditto how-to books.

  • A gift certificate to a book store.
  • An E-reader, like the Kindle, the Kindle Fire or Nook. (There are others… and as with all these suggestions, do your research before purchasing!)
  • A portable hard drive to back up all their manuscripts.
  • A small digital recorder he or she can carry to record story ideas and thoughts.
  • The new Asus Transformer Prime (quad core) tablet with keyboard accessory, available December 19. (To be sure, a gift to be given by a really close friend or perhaps a Husband of Awesome™.)

Gifts that “Go Away”

I’m a big fan of gifts that get consumed (so the house remains uncluttered):

  • Good coffee. (And don’t just go to Starbucks, not everyone — ahem — enjoys their over-roasted, burned up beans.)
  • A nice bottle of wine or spirits.
  • Chocolate. And do make certain it’s fine chocolate. You don’t have to buy a lot when you buy the good stuff: a little goes a long way.
  • A gift certificate for a massage (to help relieve that deadline stress and endless hours sitting at a desk) or for a manicure (because typing is hard on the hands).

Inexpensive Gifts, or Gifts from the Self

Every writer I know can use a little more time in their day to get their writing stuff done. Since the time machine hasn’t been invented yet, you really can’t lengthen their day…but you can give gifts that will save your favorite writer some time.

Of everything mentioned on this list, these are my favorites:

  • Coupons or gift certificates (that you can easily make yourself) for:
    • running to the store to pick up a few things
    • baby sitting or child care (especially useful on deadline days)
    • researching their next project
    • updating their web site (or building a new one)
    • taking digital pictures they can use on their blog or Web site, (or)
    • taking their portrait (every writer needs a good photo for their Web site and book jackets!)

  • Read what they’ve written, and write a thoughtful, honest review at:
    • goodreads
    • library thing
    • shelfari
    • your own blog, or any other review sites you’re familiar with.

  • Help with their marketing by:
    • “friending” them on Facebook, Google and other similar sites
    • following them on Twitter – and re-tweeting their clever and witty tweets
    • “liking”, digging, stumbling upon, +1-ing and “whatever else-ing” their blog posts on all the appropriate social media channels (super mondo bonus points if you go through your writer friend’s entire blog and do this for every appropriate post)
    • “tagging” all their books at
    • adding their blog to your ‘blogroll’
    • linking to their Web site from your own
  • Bake a casserole, make a lasagna or some other kind of “toss it in the oven, crockpot or microwave” meal that can be put together in minutes. If you can’t cook, there are lots of ready to serve items in the grocery store!
  • Better yet: come over and make dinner (and stay. Writers are notorious for spending too much time alone.)

A Final Note

It’s nice that you think of your writer friends, and want to give a gift to highlight that fact, but, writers are people, too. Writing might suck up their entire life, but they’re not all about writing. They have interests outside the written word. (Would you buy your construction-worker friend a new pair of steel-toed boots for Christmas?)

In short: you don’t have to give a writer a gift related to writing.

And if you have no clue: ask! If you’re close enough to give a gift to someone, they’ll appreciate that you want to give them something they’ll like.

Which also means: if you don’t know them well enough to ask, maybe you shouldn’t be buying a gift. That would be like stalking. Ick.

32 comments to My Highly Opinionated Gift Suggestions for the Writer in Your Life

  • Here’s a wacky idea: a video of someone praising their writing. Seriously, some of these are really funny. I list a bunch of these “fiverrs” in this blog post: (plastic bag man and dancing peas girl are my faves). And I purchased one last year, of a guy playing a saxophone and singing a Christmas song, for my godson, who is not (yet?) a writer. People love to post them on facebook and such. Five dollars each! It’s not much more than the cost of a store bought card.

  • Sue Black

    Very interesting. Are there any things you especially would like to receive? Your hubby was no help when I asked!

  • The best gift I can think of is to buy copies of your writer friend’s books and give them as gifts to yourself, to others, or donate copies to your local library.

    Writers want their work to be read and that’s a great way to help them achieve it.

  • Cori B

    Nicely written. I think this would be an excellent entry for some of those magazines you mentioned – any have ezines to which you could submit?

  • Really great article with lots of good ideas! I LOVE the “auxilary services” ideas – writing a review, helping with website, photography for book cover or author pic…a couple others would be graphic design help with cover layout (for self published author), and technical help prepping files for e-publishing (layout for kindle, etc.). The marketing help is GOLD – I’m going to share those ideas with everyone I know – this is what I want for Christmas!

    For me, though I would switch the don’t gives and the think about giving sections – I can never have too many notebooks or stamps! But I already subscribe to the magazines I want to read and I’m actually giving books away, I have too many and no place to put them. I’m using the library more these days just for that reason.

    Again, thanks for a great article! Happy holidays!

    • Hi Terri. Thanks for dropping by. The ‘auxiliary services’ are definitely my favorite on the list.

      Thanks for the graphics design/cover layout ideas – ….and you’re not the only person to suggest that notebooks and stamps are still a good gift. (I guess I just spend too much time at Staples! 🙂 )

  • Really enjoyed this post (and tweeted it!). I’m also printing a copy and highlighting parts for my dear hubby. Thanks for sharing! (Glad you shared on the MWA board so I knew to come by and look.)

  • Those fiverrs are hilarious! A good list of suggestions.

  • Fabulous job! I’m right there with ya. Well, except maybe for the coffee, but a nice tea, especially rooibos, is just as good….

    • Hi Debra! Glad you liked the list. You know, I drink A LOT of tea. Seriously. I don’t know why I didn’t think to put it on the list…. Making a note to change that the next time I feel an urge to post a highly opinionated list… Thanks!

  • Wonderful list! I’ll pass on the manicure and massage, though. I agree on the ‘what not to give’ list too, and would not enjoy most literary action figures either.

    But that got me thinking. I would so like a small figurine of a muse. Same way piano players put a bust of Beethoven on their piano for inspiration. I’m certain that staring at a physical muse would inspire me. Wish someone would manufacture those–I’d pay $5 for that!

  • Gayle G.

    I liked ‘come over and make dinner’ or lunch. And please stay. I had a friend do that for me once, and it was the best gift EVER!
    The only one I disagreed with was paper and notebooks. I collect handmade papers and notebooks from all over Asia so I love a new find. Also, if you have a good quality paper I can use it for a calligraphy project or some such.

    • Hi Galye!

      If you enjoy fine paper, then it’s definitely off the “don’t” list. I’ll bet there are some fantastic papers in Asia. What do you see there that you can’t find in the states?

      • Gayle G.

        Lots of handmade paper from all sorts of fiber. Hand bound journals made with bamboo and all kinds of things. Granted, I have a collection of the stuff sitting there that is too pretty to use. When I visit relatives in the States, I give it as present. My sister is a skilled at craft projects so she makes ornaments and all sorts of things out of it.

        • Oh, Gayle, I’ll bet the journals bound with bamboo are very neat! (Must go hunt down what they look like on Google.) I love hand-bound notebooks and thick paper, but I hate using them for notes! (Who wants to mess up the pristine paper?) Using it for ornaments and craft projects sounds perfect.

  • This was a fun read, Kelly. I especially like your suggestion to buy
    expensive chocolate! Another option for Husband of Awesome is to send
    Awesome to a writer’s residency where she could really focus away from the day-to-day distractions like laundry (and checking email, my personal downfall).

    I wouldn’t lump Poets & Writers in with how-to mags, though. It’s a terrific resource for people who write literary novels and poetry. Its list of grant deadlines and calls for manuscripts is extensive.


    • Hi Pat!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the list. I think the residency is a GREAT option. I’ve already broached the Husband of Awesome™ with that one. (He said, “Yes.” (!) Now, I’ve just got to find the right residency. Thanks for the suggestion!)

      I had forgotten about the P&W grants and manuscript section. You’re absolutely right. It is extensive.

      (And about that Husband of Awesome™ thing…. You know, I never realized it could be interpreted two ways. In my mind, it means, “The Husband who is awesome,” not, “the guy married to Awesome.” Hehe. Gave me quite a giggle. Thanks!)

  • Margery Ritchie

    Hi Kelly,
    Great ideas–I especially like how you categorized the items. The only item I’d take off the “don’t” list is writing implements. Years ago a friend gave me a beautiful pen as a gift–one that I would have considered extravagant and would not have thought to buy for myself. It replaced my then favorite writing instrument. I feel special every time I use it.
    Also, I love the idea of “gifts that go away”–no clutter or storage!I’d like to have gift certificates for manicures and massages so I’d be forced to pamper myself,(assuming that I’d remember where I put the certificates).
    Happy Holidays!

  • Great article, Kelly. Though I’m also with the few who would strike the pens & paper of the “don’t” list. I love pretty paper and I just had the biggest case of pen envy the other night when another writer had a SWAROVSKY pen!!

    Double down on the massage! Though, even a gift certificate for one of those “luxury” hair appointments where you get the washing, massage, & styling is lovely. For the male writers, I have been told by my H-of-A (hyphens keep me from infringing on the tm) that there is nothing like going to a good barber shop and getting a good straight razor shave.

    And for @Steve – they DO make them. I’ve found them at New Age and witch-type stores all over…and someone got me a lovely hanging one.

    Another thing you didn’t mention but that I’d personally *love* to get from someone would be registration to one of the conventions that I attend but am not big enough to get to for free. Those are generally affordable… except the big ones, in which a group of friends can all chip in. 🙂

    • Hi Trish!

      So…. I had to go find out what a Swarovsky pen had that others didn’t…crystals. I should have known that! Very pretty… but ball point. I didn’t think anyone used ballpoint anymore! 🙂

      Love the idea of hair appointment, too. And. I’ll email Steve direct, re the muse, if he’s not keeping up with the comments here… I’m certain he wouldn’t have looked there.

      Fabulous idea about conventions! Chipping in for accommodations or gas, too, would be cool, I’d think.

  • Hi Kelly,
    For me, the greatest gift is not doing “stuff.” Instead of exchanging gifts with family and friends, my partner and I do several large donations to charity. Then, during holiday crazy time, I have time to walk the dog, meditate, sit by the fire, and, above all, WRITE!

    I feel an immense sense of freedom and rightness in stepping out of the consumer machine.


    • Hi Alix!

      Wonderful suggestion! I’d much rather spend my time visiting with family and friends than spending the time in the mall searching for the right gift and fretting that it’s not. How do you divorce yourself from the mania?

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