The 10 Best Gifts for Writers (and three worst)

As a commissioned novelist who averages 10 – 15,000 words a week – and the staff writer for a publishing company – I was asked to come up with a list of the best Christmas gifts for writers.  I also threw in the three worst – in the interest of my fellow word herders out there.  And remember, the most important gift you can give anyone  at any time  – is love.

The Ten Best Gifts for Writers

Coffee – (Or Tea) – Most writers either need to wake up or stay up. Some specialty coffee (or tea) is always well appreciated.

Gym Membership or Free Pass – Writing is a solitary, sit-down-all-the-time existence. Something that gives writers a chance to get up, be around people and move is a good thing. Exercise is also a great way to get ideas and defeat writer’s block.

Massage Gift Certificate – If your writer doesn’t like working out, loosen up his/her muscles with a nice massage. Relaxation encourages creativity and productivity.

Autographed Books – All writers have writers who inspire them. Give an autographed book to connect your writer to the community of authors. Or, give a gift subscription to Tattered Cover Book Store’s “Autograph Book Club” which sends out a signed book each month.

Staples Gift Card (or any office supply store) – Writers love office supplies. Highlighters, tape, cool labels, index cards – you name it we want it.

Pandora One Subscription – A great way to get into a character’s head is listen to the music that character likes. But, who wants to spend money on music you hate just because you’re writing dialogue for a teenage Goth or an eighty year old big-band fan? Pandora (without commercials and no time limit) can let you design a station for every character.

Cork Board or Dry Erase Board – with pins – Cork boards make great story boards to put up pictures of characters, plot outlines, or descriptions. Dry erase boards let writers dump all their ideas, character names and weird things to remember in one erasable place.

Dyna-Flex Gyro – We might not be surgeons or pool sharks, but – writers need their hands. We type A LOT.  Keep your writer carpal tunnel syndrome free with a Dyna Flex.  It is a plastic ball with a rotor inside and spins at G Force.  A 3 times a day Dyna Flex (2 mins per hand) will keep the doctor away.

Noise Cancelling Headphones – You don’t realize how loud common household stuff is until you try to concentrate. The cat snores, the office lights buzz, the person beside you won’t shut up. Give your writer the ultimate gift – white noise or the ability to control their sound environment via music so they can concentrate.

Specialty Dice – head to any game or comic shop and pick up a couple 20 sided, 8 sided, 6 sided dice and put them together in a set for your writer.  Dice are amazingly helpful. You’re writing, you need an address for the killer to go to – if you stop to think too hard about it you’re going to break the flow and the muse will get all cranky and leave again. So – grab the dice on your desk and toss a couple. BAM! 1482 Applewood Street.  Or the guy is in hotel room (3 Dice Roll) 624.

THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER GIVE WRITERS:

Fancy Pens – They are beautiful, functional and personal. But – writers really don’t use pens that often except for jotting notes (and most of use our phones for that).

Blank Notebooks – It doesn’t matter if they are fancy or plain, lined or open. Don’t do it. First, writers get tons of these and second, the last thing a writer needs is MORE BLANK PAPER STARING AT YOU!

DVD’s of TV Shows – So, you know your writing friends would love Boardwalk Empire. But they keep blowing off the suggestion (cause they are busy writing and don’t have time for TV) – Do NOT buy them the Box Set. Writers have to shut out other media for time and creativity (It’s hard to write your story when you are watching other stories) – Don’t force it into their life. Let them decide IF and WHEN they have time for a new story in their world.

10 gifts for writers

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A Little Netiquette Goes a Long Way

In the second novel of the Oryx and Crake trilogy, The Year of the Flood, author Margaret Atwood takes readers on an extended journey into a dystopian society ruined by an environmental catastrophe, corporate greed, and genetic engineering (yep, we still like to pretend it’s fiction) where humans are trying to navigate a collapsing world.  One of the most inventive and fun parts of the novel is the fast food chain, “SecretBurgers.”

SecretBurgers is the only hamburger joint after the catastrophe leaves society without animals that aren’t genetically engineered/created. Since the supply of meat has been critically affected, SecretBurgers makes its food with whatever it can find. No one knows what the burger is made of and it could be different things each time. It could be a rakunk (genetically engineered rabbit/skunk), a lab-created protein mulch, whatever is in McRibs, or well…you know…other sources (shiver).  You’d think a proposition like that would keep people away, but Secretburgers is astoundingly popular. They have two things going for them: a catchy ad campaign (“Everyone loves a secret”) and the herd mentality of people who accept the ethically and nutritionally challenged burgers because “everybody eats here; it’s fast and cheap. Besides, we are all eating the same stuff, anyway.”

Secretburgers

Lately, I’ve been seeing what I call the “The Secretburger Mentality” manifest itself across social media, friendly talks, and theological discourse. In short, it’s everywhere. It’s the idea that any piece of information or advice is good and true for everyone. And, if it’s not – well, at least we all believed it at the time.  As a people, we are so attracted to our ability to share information we have forgotten to question the content, intent or applicability of what we share and profess.

SecretBurgers! We eat them up. See an article that vinegar can keep your window from icing? Fill a spray bottle, spread the word.  Read a study that says using plastic communion cups for art projects gives you plastic poisoning? Toss those suckers in the garbage disposal – no wait! Recycle them! Tell your committee it’s a must read. Share a picture to bring awareness to a cause? You bet! (And, put a “this probably isn’t true, but…” just in case).  See an article on “How trend ABC can save the church” – post it. See an article six months later on “Why trend ABC is killing the church” – post it too.  Those amazing cute food ideas on pininterest? Um, no.

cookie-monster-cupcakes-nailed-it

I want to be smart. I want to be plugged in. I want to share life hacks, super knowledge and good advice with my peers. At the base of my being – I just want to help. I eat at SecretBurgers – and I serve them to my friends which is okay, because we all eat the same stuff, anyway.

Except, we don’t.  And, I don’t want to eat there anymore.

All these “helpful” surveys, studies and ideas that make us believe we know what <someone else> needs to do or know distract us from the most helpful piece of information we should be remembering:  we are art, not product.

Human beings aren’t created on an assembly line (even a heavenly one) with the same needs, wants, abilities, disabilities, buttons and bows. We don’t roll into this world in boxes marked: male, female, transgendered (numbers limited), straight, gay, nerd, jock (with complimentary soccer ball), parent, professional.  We are uniquely designed, one-of-a-kind, projects.  And, what’s more exciting – we aren’t even finished!  We arrive partly put together and mostly undone until the crafters, painters, and makers come into our life. Eventually, we will take the reins and add our own style, sometimes having to re-do someone else’s contribution, at other times building on it.

We are like those gifts you see on websites that say, “Because this item is individually made it may not appear exactly as the picture.” (I love those).  We are handmade, heart made and hauntingly beautiful.

No one article will be right for us all.  No link has a lock on our lives.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing some info and having some fun – but make it a real meal or a handy dessert – not a Secretburger. How?

  1. Check out the author, accuracy, and intent of the items your share.  (Don’t just write, “Don’t know if this is true, but…” – if you don’t know it’s true – don’t post it – just put up a cat picture. You can’t lose with those).
  2. Let it be an idea, not an indisputable fact that can’t be challenged.
  3. Make it fun, not personal. No one’s friendship should depend on a Buzzfeed slideshow.
  4. Let it go like a balloon. If people want it – they can grab it, if not it can float away. Don’t turn it into a “must read, must discuss” anchor.
  5. Start your link with, “Here’s a neat thought.”  Not, “This is true because…”

Stop asserting and start sharing. Maybe your “truth” is my “story” or maybe my cure is already complete. It’s okay to lead the horse to water. Don’t tell it what to think. And, if you discover there’s some horsemeat in a Secretburger – keep it to yourself.  Everyone loves a secret.


Christmas from Advent to Zen

Christmas from Advent to Zen

Santa MeditatingGrowing up in a family that didn’t’t go to church or celebrate Christianity in any overt fashion (“There is a God, but that’s not really for us” was my mother’s view), Christmas meant one word:  books.   Well, I suppose when I was very small it also meant Santa – but mostly by the time I was able to plop down in a chair and start reading – Santa was just a means to an end – books.  In fact, even now there is a book under the tree with my name on it every year.  When I was seventeen I went to church with a friend, walked the aisle, and “asked Jesus into my heart” which made me a new creation and brought about a new winter focus:  Advent.

Advent is the season of expectation. Traditionally it is the four weeks before Christmas where we anticipate and imagine the gifts the Christ child will bring us. The weeks are marked by candles and set up to reflect the beauty the holiday celebrates:

Hopeadventwreath
Peace
Joy
Love

Advent is what we focus on while we attempt to ignore the hardcore shopping (“I will cut you for that Leap Frog Tablet!”), wild partying (“Open bar at the office today!”), and general outrage (“Your ad says “Holidays” not “Christmas” – I’m never shopping here again after I buy these things and get my discount!”) of the season.  When I am tired of the hustle, bustle, dining or whining – I light a purple candle and call it a star-filled night – when love come into our world wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger.

I love Advent but I have also gained sanity and balance by ridding myself of its main component – expectation.  For the most part, our culture has transformed expectation from being a holy waiting filled with gratitude to a laundry list of requirements that must be met.  Ancients regarded unmet expectations as a sign or a challenge. Modern families regard them as disappointment – always to be avoided.

We are fed expectation (along with a diet of competition, conformity, and confusion) in every corner of our life. Goal directed behavior is our drug of choice, and “meets (or exceeds) expectations” is the Holy Grail. Church leaders buy books, attend seminars and gnash their teeth at meetings attempting to define and evaluate the congregation’s expectations for growth, leadership, social impact and whether there is enough church buy-in to go for that new hymnal. We have raised up a model and voted that the surprising, not-what-you-expect, catch-me-if-you-can Holy Spirit must work within it.  Expectation has made us fat on promises, and thin on perseverance. It is time for it to go.

But, how can I have Advent without expectation?  First by realizing the three wise magi probably started life looking like this:

Three Wise Men
My Christian heart, cultivated in the west is buoyed each day by my Zen practice – founded in the east. In meditation we are taught to let go of expectation and embrace acceptance. It is what it is. It will be what it will be. And, we accept it as its nature without judgment. A life without judging one another – sounds kinda like something I heard about once, from a guy – on a hill – found by these three wise folks after he became more than expectation.

The magi were following a star. Looking for a king. Did you see the gifts they brought? No rattles, no cool crib mobiles, and no booties.  I’m pretty sure a teen couple in a barn with a baby was NOT what they expected. It was what they accepted. No one threw up a magi hand, stomped back to his camel or shouted at the star, “A baby?  Really?  REALLY?!”
They gave.
They knelt.
They worshipped.
They accepted something they never expected.

So this Advent – I will not expect. I will accept.

I will accept Peace – the gift of perspective, forgiveness and rest.
I will accept Hope – the gift of a future, assurance, and trust.
I will accept Joy – laughter and cookies, giggles and jokes.
I will accept Love – all around me, within me, abundantly.

And I will accept that the Holy Spirit whom I have never been able to catch will do something unexpected – and leave a baby unto us – and his name shall be called …“Wonderful.”

(And, if there is a book under the tree with my name on it – I’ll accept that too.)