Gifts For Writers 2020 (Pandemic Edition?)

Once again, the HOLIDAYS are upon us, where we may GATHER WITH FRIENDS and RENEW OUR BONDS WITH FAMILY and SHARE AEROSOLIZED MIST between us and BREATHE IN EACH OTHER’S VARIOUS PATHOGENS INCLUDING THE HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS AND DELETERIOUS CORONAVIRUS and together we can merrily OVERWHELM HOSPITALS AND

*checks notes*

Wait no we’re not supposed to do any of that?

Shit! Shit. Never mind. Backspace all that.

What I’m trying to say is, it is the holidays, and you may find that during these holidays, a wild writer has appeared, and writers are a peculiar breed and can only be appeased with a select set of specific gifts. Give them the wrong gifts and they will haunt your home for a decade, and write nasty books about you. We are vengeful trickster gods, all of us.

As always, these are gifts that the writer in your life may or may not like or find useful.

But their mileage may vary.

Please to enjoy.

A pandemic stress relief buddy: early on, with our kiddo going virtual, we knew he was going to feel some level of frustration and we didn’t want that pressure building up in him like a rogue Instant Pot IED, and so we thought, okay, let’s buy him something for that. And we bought him this motherfucker right here. It’s a fighting/grappling dummy. And whenever our child finds himself angry or frustrated, and it’s not the kind of frustration that can be alleviated by merely doing good breathing techniques or incurring total Ego Death by drinking peyote tea, we say, “Go kick the shit out of your purple friend over there.” I mean, with less profanity. And less peyote. And he does and it’s great. Thing is? I do it too. I sneak into his room sometimes and… let’s just say, the dummy is incredibly punchable. And you feel better almost instantly, and it’s a great way to loosen up a writer’s block, too. If you want an even more punchable (and cheaper) dummy, this smiling bastard is just asking to have his block knocked off. Also seriously don’t feed your kids peyote. Jeez.

Literary ways to filter viruses from your face: Out of Print has a series of awesome book-themed masks, including a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy facemask. Which says DON’T PANIC. Which is great. BookRiot has a good list here, too.

We All Live In Zoom Now: So maybe the writer in your life needs a ring light?

We’re All Birders Now, Too: I mean, seriously, I sit and write and then stop writing and look at birds. It’s a good distraction because birds don’t give a shit. So, a bird book like Sibley’s What It’s Like To Be A Bird is a wise choice. And here in the Wendighaus, we are super-big fans of Wingspan as a board game. Or maybe buy a witch spell that turns a writer into a bird because fuck it.

Distraction-free, irony-heavy writing device: The FreeWrite has a new device out, and it’s The Traveler — a writer can use this no-frills word processor and pretend like they’re traveling the world and writing in rare, sublime locales instead of sitting at the dining room table with a cat in their lap and a cat on their head and a dog farting in the corner and probably a child crying somewhere.

Shameless plug inserted in the middle so you hopefully don’t notice its shamelessness: I wrote a book, it’s called Damn Fine Story, I think it’s pretty good? Maybe? It’s all about the weave and weft of storytelling — the shape of narrative, the components, the patterns, the ways to break those patterns. It also features a story about an elk masturbating, which is clearly a value add. You can buy it in print or digital. And yes, Virginia, there is an audio version now.

Really any book from any indie bookstore. Writers love books. We eat them. Did you not know that? We no longer read them, we’ve ascended beyond that point and now require them as food. We still get the story! We just do it with our teeth instead of our eyes. Anyway. Indie bookstores are a vital part of our Book Ecosystem — and we want them to survive so that we can survive. So, if you’ve a writer in your life, just get them books from your local indie. Or checkout indiebound.org or bookshop.org. My two local stores also ship to you — Doylestown Bookshop and Let’s Play Books. If you need a book idea, get the writer in your life a copy of your favorite book. The one you cannot live without. That or a giftcard. Giftcards are great. Or a pony. Do bookstores sell ponies? No? Shit.

Narrative gaming: I always find games about storytelling do some work to sharpen my narrative muscles, though obviously not enough to tell me you don’t sharpen muscles, but whatever, I don’t have a lot of time, we’re gonna keep on forging ahead. Some new story games out there maybe worth a gander: Icarus (no central GM, tell collaborative tale of a rise and fall of a civilization); the Awkward Storyteller (funny, random); Tattered Tales (better for kids, families). If you like Magnetic Poetry, there’s MOIST, AND OTHER AWFUL WORDS. Or, a deck of writing prompts! Finally, the staggeringly good Dreyer’s English now has a game version!

Go to hell: if you want narrative video gaming, look no further than Hades. Buy this for the writer in your life. Every writer I know loves this fucking game and they should. It’s a rogue-lite, and I usually hate those (and rogue-likes) rill hard. Because they suck. This one does not suck. Dying is a pleasure because it advances the very good story of Zagreus, son of Hades, trying his damnedest to escape the Underworld. It’s fucking great. It’s beautiful. The story is the game and the game is the story. Get it. Storytelling lessons abound. Plus? An excellent distraction.

The Idea Toolset: I am a fan of Baron Fig’s notebooks and Squire pen, and they’ve combined that into a single deal with a carrying case: their Idea Toolset. Seriously, the Squire pen is my fave.

Contains no actual rockets: Rocketbook is a digital eternal-use notebook. Which makes it a bit more sustainable than the average authorial notebook hoard. I have a writer’s shed and as a point of trivia, we built it out of the thousands of notebooks I have accrued over the years. Buy here, or go here to see how it works. Or, for a different version of sustainable that requires no app-based anything: Karst notebooks are 100% tree free, and made of… stone? Like, stone-stone? Apparently so. Here’s their process. Here’s their notebooks.

A Controversial Choice: Virtual reality can allow you to travel, remotely, to other places. I’ve used the Wander app to literally go to places I’m writing about in lieu of being able to travel, and it’s honestly helped. We have the Oculus Quest, which is truly robust — but also be advised, it is Facebook, and Facebook is a nightmare company. Worth perhaps looking to tethered options, instead, but that will require a good computer to go with it.

Appyteasers: John August, ever the wise man, has created his own writing app — it’s for script-writing, but versatile enough you can use it in other ways. Highland 2, go grabby.

Get Them Some Learnin: Subscribe them to Dongwon Song’s PUBLISHING IS HARD Substack.

Give Them Some Oxygen: Seriously, we’re all trapped in our houses, buy a writer a plant.

Some Gods Damned Self-Care: I must recommend Maggie Smith’s Keep Moving? Print, digital. I’m also a sucker for anything lavender-smelling, and lavender from Maui at least can have you pretending like you traveled to Hawaii instead of standing hunched over in your kitchen doomscrolling your phone. A writer may also like booze and ice cream, and you can combine the two at Clementine’s. Is that the best combination that exists? Yes. Unless you’re a diabetic lactose-intolerant alcoholic in which case, uhh, sorry? Maybe stick with the lavender lotion?

ANYWAY, that’s it.

See last year’s Gifts For Writers (2019) here.

And if you wanna check older lists, here are links to 20182017201620152014.