Wake up, Polly Parrot.



Gifts For Writers
by Brian Plante

If you're like me, you've waited until the last minute to buy your Christmas gifts and now you have to go out and brave the frenzied throng at the mall. The problem is you have a writer for your spouse or friend, and you want to get them something appropriate for their literary aspirations, so you can't just grab any old gift. Here's a little tip: think of George Foreman. More on this later.

The first thing you'll think of for your writer friend is, naturally, books. Bad idea. See, writers usually read a lot, so anything you're apt to buy for your writer is something he's already read. How-to-write books, grammar guides, Writer's Market, Bird By Bird, The Elements of Style, Chicago Manual Of Style -- forget it, we already have that stuff (or should). Unless you know for sure that your writer friend needs one of those, you're bound to buy him something he already has. Perhaps you could check what dictionary your writer favors and buy him the latest edition (or perhaps the software version) -- we tend to hold onto our beloved dictionaries far too long. But check first. If you're really determined to get your writer friend something from Barnes & Noble, Borders, or Amazon, then how about a gift card? Yeah, it's not very personal, but your writer will appreciate it more. If you absolutely must buy him some reading material and want to insure he hasn't read it already, then buy or extend his magazine subscriptions.

If your friend is a coffee or tea drinker, a mug with a literary or inspirational quote on it is an inexpensive way to acknowledge that she's a writer, but most of the caffeine crowd probably doesn't need yet another mug.

Cute desk calendars? Nah, they'll just get buried under all the paper. Not that many of us keep our desks very neat and the desk calendar requires a certain amount of horizontal space on the desk that we just won't give up too easily.

Don't buy us pen & pencil sets, either. Most writers are pretty picky and probably have one or two trusted instruments they use all the time, and a drawer full of others they don't. Your gift will most likely go into the drawer.

A better choice would be printer ink cartridges. They're a bit pricey, and we go through them pretty quickly. Just make sure you know what printer your writer uses and get the right model cartridge.

Writing software? Hard to predict whether your writer friend will really use any of the writing-aid software packages out there. The more experienced your writer is, the less likely he is to bother with any of them, except for his word-processing package and maybe a software dictionary, but he already has those. Skip the software, but if you find yourself in CompUSA, Best Buy, or Circuit City and you have some serious money to spend on your writer, a flat panel monitor is a very good gift. The prices of these have been dropping a lot lately, and a 17" model can be had for $500US. Although more expensive than the traditional CRT monitors, the LCD models are much easier on the eyes and let us reclaim a bit of valuable desk space.

Another expensive item appreciated by writers is a good office chair. Writers keep their butts in the chair for extended periods of time, so if your writer is still using a cheap chair, the way to his heart is, um, through his butt.

If your writer often moves between several different computers (home, work, laptop) how about giving him one of the USB micro storage devices? Typically referred to as a "thumb drive," this is basically a memory chip on a hardware dongle that fits on your keychain, and are great for keeping your work backed up and handy wherever you go. Just plug it into a USB slot and it looks like a small hard drive to your computer. The writer can easily keep his work backed up and carry it around wherever he goes. They come in many sizes, from 16 to 256 megabytes, but writers don't generally need much space just for document files, so the bottom-of-the-line will still do nicely, for about $35US.

How about some fancy stationary? Don't go nuts with this unless your writer is the type of person who writes her correspondence by hand. Most of us type away on the computer and blast it out our printers, so reams of regular 8 1/2 x 11 plain white printer paper is what we need. Not exactly a personal touch as a gift, but that's what we really use.

If your writer friend is into journaling, blank books may be OK, but make sure she journals in paper books and not on the computer.

Don't give a writer a television set. With high definition, flat screen, and surround sound, TV's have gotten pretty impressive lately, but writers are better off with their crappy older TV sets. Don't give them something that might tempt them away from their writing.

Postage stamps are a good idea, especially if your writer sends out lots of short stories. Get him rolls of 37 & 23-cent stamps. A postal scale, if the writer doesn't already have one, is also a good gift idea.. Stamps and a scale can save a writer lots of trips to the post office.

What all writers really need is something you can't buy -- time. But you can buy things that save time. And that's where our friend George Foreman comes in. If your writer cooks for himself, one of those George Foreman tilt-a-grill thingies is not a bad gift idea at all. They do a pretty good job on burgers, steaks, chops and boneless chicken breasts, and cook quickly, which gives your writer time to get back to what he really wants to do -- write.

Your writer friend may also need a couple of things that won't cost you anything: a shoulder to cry on and a mind to bounce ideas off of. Even if you're not all that interested in the writer's literary work, try to be as supportive as you can. Some writers are fairly fragile creatures and need that sort of thing.

Happy holidays, all. See you next year.

Copyright © 2002 Brian Plante

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