There’s a lot of us out here… scribblers… poets… playwrights… bloggers… journal..ers? Professional amateurs in the art of the written word. We may not make our big bucks from what we write, but it’s closer to the heart of our identity than our day job; a more accurate reflection of our true nature.
Yeah. It’s this whole… “thing.”
Picking out a gift for a writer is easier in some ways because many of the tools we use are consumable by nature: paper and ink will always be needed and appreciated. But, like so many other artists, your writer friend/colleague/partner/barista may be of the, uh, persnickety variety.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I only use paper made from recycled editions of A Room of One’s Own and rainwater from the runoff of an upcycled tin roof.”
Part of the challenge of gift giving is to focus on one interest or personality aspect without forgetting the rest.
Buy a pair of slippers after they’ve complained about cold feet? Awesome! Did you consider the style, color, country of origin, or production sustainability? Oh… so close!
So dig through your memories for some of their… whimsical personality features while you review the following list.
For me, there is a cadence to writing with a pen or pencil on paper that connects with the brain to the hand in a way that can’t be touched by a computer, tablet, or phone.
If your writer shares this preference, you’re likely gonna find evidence of it if you keep your eye out. Look for notebooks or pads around their apartment, a physical day planner in their bag when you’re grabbing a drink, a tendency to write things down on their hand or a scrap of paper instead of the note app on their phone.
Once you have confirmation, the fun begins.
I can also switch between blank, lined, and graph notebooks of the same size and color. From a long-term perspective, the fact that they use acid-free paper means my (very deep, very insightful) musings will remain in top condition for decades.
Another popular (but not too popular) and equally well made option? Leuchtturm1917, which actually does have a pretty impressively long history, so much so they put their founding year in their name. They’re also the most popular style for the bullet journalists in your life.
This means two things:
- If someone hasn’t found their tool, a new one can be a gift.
- If someone has found their tool, a new one may not find a place in their lives.
I’m a bit of an oddball in this category because of my love of fountain pens. However, few people are converted to this particular fandom by receiving one as a gift. Unless they’re already excited about fountain pens, I recommend steering clear. Another style will serve them better.
Parker pens offer a wide variety of styles at affordable prices. Their Jotter series in particular maximizes aesthetics without sacrificing function. Even as a fountain pen lover, I have several Jotters and use them every day. Don’t forget the refills!
And let’s not neglect the lowly pencil! Pencils offer a chance to get the work on to the page without that terrifying sense of permanence that comes with ink. Blackwing pencils offers great history, quality, and pedigree, while Parker (again) offers a pencil in their Jotter series that is simple and elegant.
There are other writer tools you might consider, as well:
A leather desk pad for a smoother writing surface (or a cool place for a laptop to rest).
Now. If you know your writer is a tech savvy, progress happy sort, there are still tools to be offered to make their writing a little more, well, for lack of a better word–natural.
The goal is always to simplify the writing process. Depending on a writer’s style, this may be achieved by a piece of hardware or software.
For a tool that imitates a pen and paper without needing to type up a first draft, the Fujitsu Quaderno will be appreciated by old school souls trying to optimize life in a brave new world.
Software, apps, and similar tools have been developed for almost every form of writing.
For any longform writer–novelist, journalist, and even playwright (!)–Scrivener will simplify their developing process, allowing them to quickly restructure and edit from first draft to final product.
Adobe’s products are topnotch, but they often have a steep learning curve, and InDesign is no exception. Additionally, Adobe has recently (ish) moved to a subscription format, so for gifting, this looks like paying for a 1-year subscription for someone.
Though I suppose you could do it like my grandma used to do for my family’s subscription of Reader’s Digest and just renew it every year on their birthday or at Christmas.
Vellum is simpler to use and ideal for those seeking to self-publish e-books, with an upgrade if you want to also prep for physical publishing. Unlike Adobe, Vellum’s purchase is one-and-done, with future updates included in the price. Unfortunately for those of us who prefer PCs, Vellum is currently only available for Mac.
For screenwriters, Final Draft is the industry standard. Screenwriting is a deeply form dependent art, and while Final Draft isn’t cheap, the time and sanity it saves is absolutely worth it. Worth noting: upgrades are not included in the price, but they do offer discounts if you already own the previous version.
All writers should read.
There’s an absolute for you.
While I don’t think that it’s helpful to spend most of your time reading about writing (vs. just, y’know, reading good writing), there are some classic offerings out there than can transform the way a writer looks at their work.
Some options to consider:
On Writing, by Stephen King
Always a classic. Usually at the top of these sorts of lists. Don’t be put off just because you’re not a fan of King’s usual fare.
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
My go to, for my own reference and for gifting to people who ask about my writing habits. Like King’s, it’s half memoir and half instruction.
The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
A great resource for those who struggle with motivation or self-doubt. A good kick in the pants, if that’s what’s needed.
Writing Past Dark, by Bonnie Friedman
Many artists have a dark side that they are processing through with their work. This book is a great resource to have on their side.
Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
The most, er, “woo-woo” of the list, this book is good for those who see meaning in everything but could use help channeling this into their discipline. Or for those who are on their second copy of Eat, Pray, Love after the first one’s spine gave out.
Okay, but what about just, y’know, good writing?
For journalers, Virginia Woolf is an inspiration, and you can purchase her (lightly edited) journals divided into several massive volumes covering 27 years (!) or simply pick up the lovingly selected A Writer’s Diary.
Journalists have a lot to learn from George Orwell, starting with his Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters. They’re a little elusive and there are several volumes, so pick them up where you can find them.
It’s easy to find hundreds of books all considered the “greatest novel ever written,” but for fiction writers, each of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories is a masterclass.
G.K. Chesterton is a masterful essayist, and a delightful mind to both agree and disagree with depending on your worldview. In Defense of Sanity highlights the best of his 5000 essays–yeah, I’m not sure if that’s inspiring or just plain overwhelming, either.
As an educational resource, I’ve long been a fan of The Great Courses. Utilizing college professors at the top of their fields, each class provides high level insight into a particular scope of interest. Many of them you can choose between audio only or video depending on how and when you like to learn. From Cooking to Shakespeare to Astronomy, whatever your interest is, you can find a class for it!
Writing is, of course, no exception. Here’s a few that will be helpful to any writer:
Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft, by Brooks Landon, Ph.D.
Effective Editing: How to Take Your Writing to the Next Level, by Molly McCowan
Do note that the full price of each course can run into the (several) hundreds. If that’s your budget, huzzah! You’re all set. But each course goes on (deep) sale at least once a year, so if you can plan ahead for your gift, there’s a chance to save a lot of money.
If you prefer a subscription plan vs. a one-time purchase, Wondrium (formerly The Great Courses Plus) will take good care of you.
Masterclass also has a similar form, though it’s presented by celebrities and practitioners vs educators. They also don’t offer audio only classes and only offer subscriptions.
Personally, I find The Great Courses better for technical learning, and Masterclass better for inspiration and motivation. Diff’rent strokes and what not.
Like with books, not all the best viewing for writers is about writing.
For choosing well-written films, use the Writer’s Guild of America West list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays as inspiration.
Consider pushing your writer a bit out of their comfort zone–if they’re younger and haven’t engaged with older films, you might offer them Casablanca or All About Eve. If they’ve already cut their teeth on the classics, Broadcast News or Fargo may broaden their horizons.
Television has had some of the most extraordinary writing of the last few decades. Sally Wainwright is an often overlooked writer outside of the UK, but her shows Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax, and Gentleman Jack are topnotch in all departments.
And don’t overlook documentaries for content inspiration. They’re a great way to get perspective outside of our own experience. Some to consider:
There’s no better gift for a writer than something to write about.
(And that’s great, no bashing it. But for most of us, that’s not what a birthday present looks like.)
Instead, think of things like: tickets to a local sporting event or the cover for a local band’s headline night at a bar. You can then throw in a lovely notebook or a book of writing prompts and ask them to tell you what they observed afterwards. A thoughtful gift and a relationship investment.
Don’t be afraid to work with them on what would be the right balance of enjoyment/out of their element. Despite our current cultural obsession with shock and awe, gifts don’t have to be surprises.
Whether it’s coffee or tea, wine or whiskey, most writers have a preferred beverage while they work. This is (or can be) a low cost, thoughtful way to encourage their craft.
And it can be playful, too.
For coffee, might I suggest Writer’s Block Coffee, where you can pay for a multi-month caffeinated indulgence. Since whole beans maintain their flavor longer, order them the whole beans, and if they don’t have one, toss in a manual coffee grinder.
Love the author, but not the custom blend? This shop offers the chance to swap out their blend for standard black breakfast tea or herbal strawberries and cream infusion.
Wine has been beloved by writers for, well, as long as there have been wine and writers. It’s low enough alcohol to still get work done, but high enough to quiet that annoying little critic who lives in our head and tells us exactly why that last sentence suuuuucks.
Yeah, shut that guy up! With, oh, hey, look, Writer’s Block Cabernet Franc!
Now, for those of us writers who love whisk(e)y, there was never a better named offering than the Irish brand Writers’ Tears. And wouldncha know, it’s delicious. Swing for the Double Oak if you can afford it, but don’t ever be ashamed to offer up a bottle of Copper Pot.
Picking a gift for any artist is about matching their art with their skill level and their aspirations.
As always, remember to focus on the person first, and the rest will follow.
[This post includes products from… Adobe, Apple, Best Buy, Bookshop, Bullet Journal, Criterion Collection, Dell, Disney, Drizly, Etsy, Field Notes, Final Draft, Galen Leather, GoldSpot Pens, GoodEReader, HP, JetPens, Leuchtturm1917, Moleksine, Montblanc, Office Depot, One World, Parker, Peg and Awl, Reader’s Digest, Saddleback Leather, Scrivener, Target, Vellum, Waldmann, Walmart, Wine.com, Writer’s Block Coffee.]