Here is a list of 12 writing gifts to give the writer in your life this Christmas. (The writer is you).
It’s the traditional gift-giving season here in Australia, as well as the traditional summer holidays. Every year, I am the most productive as a writer in January—a pattern that the academic year supports. The traditional Boxing Day sales, and the tradition of New Year, New You self-improvement purchases, also conspire to make this a traditional time for people who live near me to invest in their writing practice. There is no reason you couldn’t save this list for your birthday or the lunar new year… or since I have listed 12 presents, get yourself something every month for the rest of the year.
I love writing luxuries, and I love writing tools. You don’t need any of these to be a good writer, but a spirit of generosity towards your writing practice, yourself and your readers is essential. As always, use these lists not as a prescription but an inspiration.
As I’ve just been doing my own Christmas shopping, I’ve divided up this list into price points and gone for 12 items for cheesy Christmas carol reasons.
These presents are small, and you could just pick them up when you are at the stationary store or supermarket. The budget for these is pitched at about ‘office Secret Santa‘—except getting a present for yourself involves a lot less stressful guessing!
1. A really good pencil sharpener and the matching pencils.
I love writing by pencil—the haptic pleasure of the glide of graphite across good paper, the fact that you need to take mini-breaks to sharpen the pencil, and the scent of cedar shavings when you do. Even upgrading from your terrible free pencils to some Columbia Copperplate 700s and that sharpener that chews your pencils for a Staedtler barrel model will be amazing.
If you are going for a new kind of fancy pencils, though, you may have to also get yourself the matching sharpener. My beloved Midori pencils do not fare well in my Blackwing pencil sharpener; and a gift set of fancy Faber-Castell graphite pencils don’t even fit in the Midori sharpener. Each sharpener achieves a different point too, the Blackwing is extremely long and pointy, while the Midori is smoother and rounder.
In other words, you could choose to treat yourself to the kind of pencil and sharpener you really like.
2. A daylight bulb for your desk lamp
If you sit inside looking at small print all day, a bright daylight bulb (yes with the dreaded blue light) will be a game-changer for your eyes. You don’t need the super fancy ones, just something that says ‘daylight’ on the package. I use mine as an uplighter most of the time, as my study is pretty dim and the extra wash of light helps make up for what isn’t coming through the window. But sometimes I need the full glare to see some essential detail without squinting.
These are also a help if you have hobbies or tasks that involve tiny details, like sewing or making models. So it’s a gift for your leisure self as well!
As these do mimic daylight, they do signal to your brain that it is time to be awake. If your circadian rhythm is set to late night work sessions, being awake when you work might be helpful. People often recommend transitioning to warmer, dimmer light for an hour or so to wind down before going to sleep, and that might be useful too.
3. Bed socks for writing days
We don’t wear shoes inside our house, so writing from home days tend to start off barefoot. However, with the long hours of not moving, and the unseasonably cool weather we’ve had, my toes get cold. The answer? That absolute standard of the Christmas stocking gift, a pair of socks.
In the deep midwinter, I have heavy wool and cashmere socks. But even in spring and autumn (and this year, even in summer), a mid-weight pair of comfy, breathable, soft bed socks is a game changer in terms of comfort at the desk.
Besides, nothing says ‘I’m settling in here’ like putting on writing socks.
4. A spiky massage ball
Yes, a tennis ball is a good start, but these little balls are super cheap, and you can pick up a stiff and spiky one, and one that is a bit softer and rounder. These balls are amazing after a long day at the desk, for getting into that place just under your shoulder blades, or the arch of your foot. I always throw one of these into my suitcase when I am travelling to archives, and have one in my desk drawer at work and at home.
You could easily swap out the spiky balls for the heavy smooth little ones, or a foam roller, or the weird hooked massage device that novelist Ottessa Moshfegh swears by, or any of the other tools that help you to stretch and massage.
It’s good to settle in and get some solid work done, but you often need a little something to help get everything moving again too.
When I was a child, Christmas was the time to get that good winter coat, or the sports kit that you needed for the next year. To this day, my dad asks for tools for his birthday—even though it is a practical item that he will use to fix things around the house that he could easily buy for himself when he needs it. There is something about a gift that is actually something you need that allows you to get the slightly nicer, or better made, option, that allows you to think about pleasure as well as practicality.
5. A really beautiful laptop stand
Every time I post a picture of my desk, someone asks about my laptop stand (it’s the Curve from Twelve South; and I recently got the Hoverbar Duo to turn my iPad into a second screen which has been amazing). Can you get away with using a pile of old textbooks or reams of printer paper to lift your screen up to an ergonomic height? Of course you can! Is an elegant stand with an easy place to stash your keyboard when you want to swap from typing to handwriting or reading even better? Well of course!
6. Actual ring lights
So much of my writing life these days happens on camera. From video Shut Up and Write, to leading 2-day online writing retreats, to online book launches. And half the videos look like grainy mud monsters half-submerged in swampy darkness, and the other half have their video off. When you are attending a workshop, it doesn’t much matter about your lighting, but as the presenter or guest of honour, a good set of LED camera lights makes the image of you much clearer and brighter. Webcams don’t work very well in low light, so there is a reason every YouTube content creator and Instagram influencer has a ring light.
I find the light is a bit distracting straight into my face, so I point it at a nearby white wall to get a really nice diffused light (or you could add the professional reflective transparent umbrella to achieve an even better result). This also stops me having the weird light rings reflected in my glasses.
7. Buy a stack of your favourite notebooks
Nice notebooks are expensive, especially if you go through a lot of them. A few years ago, I used a Leuchtturm1917 A4-sized jot book for a small project, and it was the most beautiful paper. I would write in them every day if I could afford it. But they have fewer than 60 pages… and for 60% of the price I can get 2 Cornell-ruled Moleskine Subject Cahiers (with 160 pages each notebook), and they are really quite good.
I sometimes treat myself to a notebook with the exceptional paper, but I am seriously thinking about treating myself to a stack of them. What kind of gift to myself as a writer would it be to feel free to fill up the nice notebook and know there was another one waiting for me? Or to have more than one project notebook going at once?
This gift only works if notebooks are fun for you. I don’t always finish a notebook (especially if it’s a project notebook and the project is done with some pages to spare). And I have a lot of different projects. Not everyone is as excited and insouciant about new note books as me—this is your present to yourself, and you know what you like best!
8. Give yourself a book voucher
In my family, I am the book buyer. If anyone is getting a present from me, it will be a book. Just this week I went to buy an aunt-list of kids books for our extended family Christmas celebrations, and a pile of fun reading for my partner. I still remember the thrill of getting a book prize at school and being able to go to the bookshop and buy that leather-bound omnibus of the complete Brontë sisters’ novels.
If you gave yourself a book voucher, what would you load up on? Reference works? Enormous coffee-table art books? A first edition from your favourite author? Perhaps you’d take out a subscription to an industry magazine. Maybe you would add audiobook versions of your central texts to your library.
One of my biggest business expenses is buying books to help me write my books and teach others how to write books. I am actually super excited about the idea of reframing this work chore as a book voucher gift to myself!
These are the presents you save up for, or that multiple people contribute towards. They are big pieces but will last you for years.
9. The good noise-cancelling headphones
If you listen to music to get you into the mood to work, need to grind out paragraphs in an open-plan office, listen to the computer reading aloud articles on your commute—then a pair of headphones that tune out distractions and let you focus on the information that is coming through your ears will be a game changer. If you need to signal to other people that you are focusing, a big pair of over-ear headphones can be easily seen from the doorway, so people will often step back out and not disturb you. Or you might want to go for the small headphones that you can carry with you everywhere, or the sporting kind that won’t fall off your ears while you go for a run.
Use the headphones to help you focus on listening to your draft, to keep up with your productivity podcasts, to block out the loudness of travel, or just to tune down the distracting external sounds of building works and leaf blowers.
10. The investment writing briefcase
Back when I was doing my PhD, I invested in a glossy burgundy, Italian leather, over-shoulder briefcase. It held my books and papers and laptop upright, so they didn’t get bashed around the way they did in a normal tote bag. There was a seperate external pocket for my pens and hand cream and umbrella and post-it flags, so I always had everything I needed for a day at the library.
It was a lot of money at the time, but an English Lit PhD is hard on bags. My cheaper bags kept literally being torn apart by the weight of the books and notes and computer equipment I needed to lug around. This bag is still going strong—these days it’s my teaching briefcase, and it carries handouts and example copies of my books and whiteboard markers all over Melbourne.
You might want to invest in something a little different in design: a rucksack, or one of those nice briefcases on wheels for example. Or maybe you go for the waterproof cycling panniers or the vintage attache case. Something that makes taking your writing to a meeting with your supervisor or a Shut Up and Write café catch up into an occasion to feel like a real writer.
11. Everything for the best caffeine
Being a caffeine snob is expensive. Whether it’s the good coffee beans and the fancy burr grinder, or the automatic capsule coffee machine; or whether it’s the Darjeeling BOP leaves, the silver tea pot and the water filter; or the high grade matcha powder and the bamboo chasen whisk… Let alone your favourite mug, tea cup or bowl… Plus of course the right scoops and spoons… And that’s before the milk jug, sugar bowl or frother. (The same holds true for herbal teas and decaffeinated hot drinks too of course!) Or maybe you take your caffeine cold, and an ice maker or desk fridge are on your wish list.
These gifts are often too expensive and bulky to buy on a whim. But as save-up, investment presents, considering how much caffeine many of us ingest across our writing lives… maybe you could justify it.
Some things money can’t buy. Love. Boops from your pet writing companions (Jellycat says hello!). Sunshine. More hours in the day.
The biggest and most valuable gift you can give yourself as a writer is the gift of time. Because it is so valuable, there are many other claims on your time—teaching, emails, meetings, caring, life admin, self-care—and all those other things are important too. So it might cost something to give yourself time, that’s why it matters.
Perhaps you have to steal your time, or hide your time, or negotiate for your time. Or perhaps you have just not been taking your time, reclaiming your time. Perhaps you have time, but have been too tired or distracted or sick to use it for writing.
However you can get it, get it if you can.
If I was to wish one gift for all of you this writing year, it would be for you to have enough time.
This was a list of things I love and enjoy, or enjoy giving to the writers in my life. I hope you were immediately clear on how you would fill out your own list. Make a list to start saving your pennies towards, or to keep an eye on the sales, or to let other people know about when they ask you what you want for your birthday. Because sometimes harder even than giving ourselves writing gifts, is allowing ourselves to receive writing gifts. Every best wish to you all from my festive season to yours, whenever it comes and however you give and receive gifts.