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December 01, 2008

What To Give Writers As Gifts

In the spirit of Tayari Jones' list last year, here are some holiday (or general) gift suggestions for the writers in your life, both do's and don'ts.

DON'T buy your writer books unless they are young, beginners, or you know they're poorly read. Writers--real writers--are voracious readers and must be given the freedom to self-direct. Also, unless you talk to them about books all the time, you don't know what they've read. If there's a particular book that you really want them to read that you don't think they know about, go for it, but don't buy them something because you heard it was good and thought they might like it.

DO buy gift cards to book stores, or a LibraryThing or PaperbackSwap account.

DO pick an art form that you know they don't experience enough of (dance, or music, or theater) and buy tickets to see a really hot show. Be sure to include drinks afterward, so they have someone to talk to about said show.

DON'T buy pens, paper, or (especially not!) notebooks. Writers are VERY particular about their writing implements, and unless you know specifically what type/brand they want, don't buy implements for them.

DO get a gift card to a stationery store, or if they write on their computers, find out what software they use and buy them something new, like Scrivener. If you buy a disk from a store, be sure to get a gift receipt so they can return it.

DO get them a gift card to a computer store (esp. the online store they use), especially if you know that their computer is dying. If they're getting ready to buy a new computer, they can put your gift towards it.

DON'T buy them books on writing or publishing. If they know what they're about, chances are, they've already looked into these books and have already read the best and ignored the mediocre ones.

DO invest in something career related ... what that really means is, give them a home-made gift certificate for a specific amount of money you will invest in some career development opportunity, like a writers conference, or a class, or a workshop, or a writing contest. These things are expensive (weekend conferences can cost hundreds of dollars before you figure in travel or accommodation costs; submitting to a writers contest can cost $20 or $40 or more).

This is a wonderful gift that says both that you take them seriously as writers, and that you're willing to give them money toward developing their careers. But be sure to pay up when they decide what to spend it on!

DON'T stress about trying to occupy a writer's mind or give him/her ideas. That's part of their JOB, and you don't have to help out with that.

DO worry about their bodies. Give them a year's gym membership, or a gift certificate to a public bath, or a massage (or series of massages!) Give them things that will help maintain or improve their health.

DO arrange a spa date! Especially if you go with them.

DO give them a gift certificate for manicures. I don't know about other writers but I'm very dependent on my hands (for typing) and bite my nails to keep them short enough to type. As a result, I suffer from hangnails. If someone bought me a manicure a month for a year, I would bless them forever.

DON'T waste your money with joke gifts or junk.

DO, for a writer who is trying to write for a living, give money. Freelancing is hard.

DO, If you have a nice guest room in your lovely home, or a vacation house, tell your writer friend that they can use it for a week or a month (or however long) when they're ready and they need it, for a writing retreat. This may not seem like much of a gift to you, but to a writer who  is desperate for some quiet me time to push out that draft, this could be the one thing in the world no one else can give them.

Also, unless you have that kind of relationship with the writer, just saying "you can use my guestroom/house anytime!" might not be enough. The writer might be hesitant to take advantage, so formally giving an amount of time as a holiday gift might make it easier for them to actually take you up on it.

I've suggested a lot of gift certificates, so here's a shopping list of gifts at different amounts:

  • $10-15 will buy a decent writing notebook, like a moleskine.
  • $15-20 will cover a decent manicure in your writer's neighborhood.
  • $20-40 will cover the entry fee for a writing contest.
  • $25 will cover the cost of  one new hardcover book (most of 'em, anyway). These are the books hardest for a working writer to get ahold of, but also the ones they might most want to read.
  • $40 will buy Scrivener, the hottest writing software right now for book-length projects. It's a download, not a disk, and you can find it here.
  • $40-60 will cover the application fee for a fellowship or an MFA program. (If they're talking about doing either of these.)
  • $60-75 should be enough to buy a massage for 45-60 minutes, depending on where you go.
  • $75 will buy a month's membership at a 24 Hour Fitness Gym. I imagine other low-cost chains are comparable.
  • $130 will upgrade their Mac operating system. Undoubtedly, Windows will cost less.
  • $150 will buy them the new MS Office Suite.
  • $240 will buy a year's worth of manicures.
  • $350 will buy a year's membership at a 24 Hour Fitness Gym. I imagine other low-cost chains are comparable.
  • $750 is the cost of a week at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, not including housing or travel.
  • $2345 is the cost of a week at the Breadloaf Writers Conference, not including travel.
  • $3000--30,000 will cover tuition for one year of a master of fine arts program at most universities.
  • $30,000 should get most writers with no chronic illnesses through one year of life in most areas of the United States (but maybe not so much for San Francisco, New York, and LA).


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