Giver Beware: Cautionary Tales For Picking Presents For Writers

This month, the Bad Girlz have been preparing for the holidays by talking gifts. Literal gifts, as in things we want, and more figurative ones, like hopes for writerly success. Just to be contrary, I’m here to offer up some suggestions for things not to get your writer friends this season—unless you know them very, very well.

The Wrong Writer Reference Book. Shortly after I made my interest in writing known, a dear, wonderful, encouraging person in my life got me some writer’s reference books.

About writing magazine articles.

The books were so well-intentioned, but they not only had nothing I could really use to help me in my path as a novelist, they were actively discouraging. Here I was, reaching for the stars, and here was someone dear to me giving me information about how to settle for something nice and practical and sort of tangentially related.

If you know your friend and what she writes, by all means, stuff her stocking with craft books and reference materials. But if you’re not really sure what she does, don’t make the mistake of assuming that all careers in writing follow the same path.

The Wrong Notebook. My brother is a writer, and two years in a row (back before I was writing myself), I got him really nice journals for Christmas. I’d seen him squirrelling away notes on crumpled pieces of paper, and thought it would be really great if he could get his ideas down on beautiful, leather-bound pages.

Nope.

I feel even more ridiculous about this assumption now that I’m a writer. Personally, I vastly prefer getting my ideas down on loose scraps. If I wrote them in a gorgeous journal, how terrible would I feel tearing them out to add to my story file later? Or worse, crossing them out?

Beyond that, writers are often weirdly superstitious about their craft. There aren’t a lot of materials involved in what we do, and so we tend to be very particular about the items we choose to use. Personally, if I do keep a notebook, I prefer for it to be spiral-bound (so I can tuck a pen into the binding), unlined (so I can write really small and all over the page and sometimes sideways), and purse-sized (so I’m never without a piece of paper). A notebook that doesn’t meet these specifications will still be a much-appreciated gift, but honestly? It’s unlikely to be a terrible well-used one.

Fortunately, my brother told me that second year that he still hadn’t used up the first notebook. There was something about the way he said it that gave me a clue. Picking a notebook is personal. I never tried to do it for him again.

More Desk Detritus. There are so many cute little literary-themed knick-knacks out there these days. Shakespeare bobbleheads and framed prints of kittens next to inspirational sayings. Ceramic tiles with witticisms about coffee and wine glasses covered in quotations. They’re awesome. They’re adorable.

But seriously. I can’t find anything on my desk. One more bit of clutter and it might turn into a black hole.

Many writers live in similar environments. There’s an exception to every rule, but in general, our minds are brimming with ideas, and our lives and our desks are brimming with stuff we swear we’re going to find a place for, no, really, I promise, just as soon as I finish this book.

If your writer friend has a clutter problem, please think twice before making it worse.

So what should you get for your writer friends? Hard to say. Gift cards to book stores are almost always appreciated (though if you’re going the digital route, be sure to keep your recipient’s e-book reader of choice in mind so you get something compatible). I particularly love being given a book the giver has read and loved – there’s nothing like a personal recommendation when it comes to finding new things to read.

Or maybe—going back to the literal vs. figurative gifts discussion, consider giving the writer in your life the one thing every writer needs: time. Homemade coupons for things like childcare or a quiet afternoon alone in the house, or arranging for a cleaner to come by would all be amazing ways to show your support to your favorite writer.

Because really, one gift I know we all would love is simply the chance to do what we love. Write.

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