This is about as obvious an answer as it gets (“What should I buy that starving child for Christmas?” “Um, food?” “Eh.”), but just the same I’m surprised at how rarely I receive books as gifts. The excuse is frequently, “Well, I don’t know your tastes.” Yeah, here are my tastes: I LIKE BOOKS. If it’s a book? I want it. I want it in my hands. I want to shove its information into my eyeholes and into the warm crawlspace around my brain. I want to lick all the stories. And yes, I have too many books shut up I don’t care. *snarls and swipes at you with a stapler*
Listen, I know, not all writers have livers that look like ruptured kickballs. We’re not all taken with the spirit, as it were. Just the same, it remains an excellent present, and why? Because we can use them for barter! It’s like in jail how cigarettes are currency? For us, booze is currency. You want to get in good with that table of writers over there, bring ’em a bottle of something fancy. Or maybe just some wood varnish, whatever, WE’RE THIRSTY GIVE IT HERE.
I joke a lot about not wearing pants and how pants are the dutiful oppressors trying to keep us creative types down. Pants, after all, are a symbol of a stable job and common sense, two things writers shall never possess. Just the same, there comes a time when a writer must clothe himself in the guise of a successful human, and so pants (or “trousers” for you lovely scone-munchers on the other side of the ocean) are an occasional necessity. I have encountered many an instance where I’m caught at the last moment searching for pants prior to some… event. (“Honey, do I have pants from this decade?” “We have to leave in five minutes for your uncle’s funeral. You’re asking me this now?”) Think of it as buying them a costume for a Halloween party!
4. A New Pen
I don’t really use pens. Most writers probably don’t. Just the same, it’s nice to have one hanging around. Maybe to write some notes. Maybe to chew on or clean the inside of our ears as we noodle a new story. Maybe to stab a pirate who’s boarded our ship in order to steal our intellectual property! “Have some ink poisoning, you scurvy interloper!” *stab stab stab*
5. Coffee And Other Stimulants
Infallible correlation: when I drink more coffee, I write more words. I do. I get about 2-3k on a single cup of coffee. I can get another 50% boost to the old “verbal dumpage quota” if I guzzle a second cup early enough in the day. I go through a gut-ton lot of coffee, which means I’m ever in need ofreplenishment. (Sidenote about coffee: the lighter-roasted coffee has more caffeine.) Or hell, maybe the writer in your life likes Five-Hour Energy, which reportedly kills people and tastes like the Humbaba’s crotch-sweat. Buy ’em a case of that, instead. Just stay away from bath salts. I’ve eaten way too many human faces on that stuff. Last week I found an ear in my pocket. It had a bite taken out of it. So embarrassing.
6. A Helper Monkey
You know how often I could use the help of a charming little helper monkey? Uhh, like, always. “Hey, Admiral Monkeyshines, hand me my coffee. And my iPad. And can you scratch my back? No, not there. Over. Over. Left. Now up. Now down. Perfect. Can you brush the old taco meat out of my beard? Will you read me a book in your funny little monkey ooks and eeks? Ooh! No, no! Ride the dog around like you’re a a cowboy! HA HA HA I LOVE YOU, ADMIRAL MONKEYSHINES.” Of course, I’d never get anything written, but maybe I could make the helper monkey do that, too. It’d probably improve the quality of my work, to be honest.
7. Some Sort Of “Lard-Ass Alert”
They have these monitors for cribs that detect when an infant has stopped moving for 20 seconds so you can rush in and — well, I don’t know what happens then, but if you have our son you discover him climbing up your curtains with a pirate dagger in his teeth. Point is, writers need something like this. We need an alarm that reminds us that it’s time to get off our slugabed dumpers and push blood to limbs other than our typing fingers. “ALERT: YOU HAVE NOT MOVED YOUR BODY IN THREE HOURS. YOUR MUSCLES HAVE BEGUN TO ATROPHY. YOUR HEART IS WREATHED IN A SWEATER OF FAT. YOU WILL SOON DIE IF YOU DON’T GET UP AND TAKE A WALK YOU TORPID GRISTLY BLOB. I CAN SMELL YOUR HOAGIE SWEAT.”
8. Healthy Snacks
To go along with the Lard-Ass Alert, you could buy the writer some healthy snacks. If given half a chance you’ll find my desk littered with Haagen-Daaz containers, gnawed-up pork ribs, and empty sugar packets. But foods like that drag our brains down like high-fructose boat anchors — we need healthy snacks. Nuts! Or dried fruits. Or maybe just a desk drawer full of lettuce.
9. A Kind Review
I can’t speak for other writers, but fuck, that’s never stopped me before. So here, let me do it again! What we writers appreciate perhaps most in this world is a kind review of our work. Shimmy-shaking on over to your favorite review site (Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, your blog, Big Dave’s Discount Book Reviews, whatever) and leaving us a nice review will make our day brighter. Or, if you truly must leave a bad review, make it an entertaining one. Misspell a bunch of stuff. Write half the review in all caps. Insult us humorously and insert some random conspiracy theory in the middle. Maybe write the review in a series of poopy handprints.
10. A Major Award!
I don’t know how you would procure for us a major award, but I assume a hefty bribe will do it. Or you could always just make one, sell it on Etsy. I don’t think we’re particularly discerning. Carve our names into a wooden bar stool and swaddle it in Christmas tinsel and hand it over and tell us it’s an award from some blah blah newspaper or blah blah blog. We won’t check. We’ll just hug it to our chests and spin like we’re that girl in the Sound of Music. Don’t worry, we’ll hate ourselves again by morning. But for that one night, we’ll know: somebody really likes us. Even if that somebody is completely imaginary! That’s okay. Imaginary is our wheelhouse.
11. A Room Of One’s Own
Virginia Woolf was famous for — well, okay, she was famous for writing a bunch of really great stuff but she was also famous for that essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” in which she says, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” It’s an essay that all women and all writers should read, and while I am not a woman (though I do look smashing in a sundress!), I am a writer, so, y’know, it’s good stuff. I too believe that writers should have a space to call their own, and so a good gift for a writer is to ensure that they have this territorial bubble in which to operate. If you cannot accommodate an actual room, try buying them four cubicle walls, or a piano crate! Or give them a space next to the rusty boiler in the cellar.
12. A Plant
A plant on our desk serves a powerful purpose: it is a little thumbtack that punctures the creative territorial bubble in which we live, a creative bubble that tells us nobody else matters and nothing else exists but us, this desk, and this story. The plant suddenly becomes a thing outside one’s egosphere (or, perhaps, egosystem) that reminds you that there lurks a real world beyond the pale, a true place beyond the artifice of fiction. And then you accidentally kill the plant and realize that you are the DIVINE MASTER OF LIFE AND DEATH HAW HAW HAW.
13. Neil Gaiman’s Magic Gazebo
Speaking of one’s own rooms and territorial bubbles, you could just steal Neil Gaiman’s magic penmonkey gazebo. I like to believe that it is Gaiman’s creative womb — the light-side equivalent of that evil black lacquered egg that Darth Vader hibernates in. I suspect that, whenever he takes a journey into story-land, the gazebo literally leaves this earth and penetrates the dimensional fontanelle and takes Gaiman to magical far-off-lands.
14. Or Maybe Just Neil Gaiman
Or you could just abduct Neil Gaiman. He could be a writer’s authorial spirit animal! A long-limbed Muse-imp gamboling behind the writer as she writes, giving encouragement and drinking tea and saying otherwise smart things (like, say, any of this). How great would that be? Don’t tell him I told you to abduct him. He can’t read this, can he? I’m sure he’s very busy.
15. An Autographed Book By One’s Favorite Author
It is at the end of the day the story that counts, not the author, but to an author, other authors represent a kind of perfect ideal. Our favorite authors are our personal totems, our creative guides hanging out in our minds, helping us realize who we want to be and to what we must aspire. So, an autographed book by a beloved author is a wonderful thing, indeed. I have signed first editions of Christopher Moore’s Lamb and Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, and sometimes I get naked and hold them tight to my pasty flesh while rocking back and forth.
16. A Truly Awful Book
You may think, “What a spectacularly awful gift,” and to that I say, Au contrare, grumpy bear. Buying a hideously rat-fucked book for your writer pal sends a very clear message to that writer: “Sometimes terrible books get published which means, by golly, you can get published too.”
17. A Car Battery And A Pair Of Steel-Toe Boots
The Muse does not simply walk into Mordor. Or something. Whatever. What I mean is, sometimes the Muse needs a short, sharp shock. A car battery hooked up to her fairy wings or a steel-toe boot driven hard up into his fairy nuts will get that Muse jabbering into a writer’s ear, posthaste. And when that fails, the writer can loan the battery and the boots to someone else and they can shock-kick him into finishing his shit.
18. A Giftcard To An Office Supply Store
If you’re anything like me, an office supply store is like a vista of efficiency-porn. Pens and papers and hole-punches! Desk calendars! Helper monkeys! Really nice pens! Laser printers. Dildos! Wait, I might be mixing up “office porn” and “real porn.” Anyway. Point is, a giftcard to an office supply store is a very happy thing, indeed. It gives us an excuse to frolic.
19. A Really Nice Keyboard
A worker is only as good as his tools. A soldier with his gun. A chef with her knife. A robot with its DOOM LASER and BUZZSAW HANDS. And so a writer must have the proper tools, too. A really great keyboard — er, the kind on which you type, not the kind that says ‘Casio’ on it — is an essential tool. Plus, our keys are probably stuck together with moistened Cheeto dust.
20. A Hollowed-Out Book
We need a place to keep our secret things. Keys to demonic doors. Syringes filled with milky muse-juice. Handguns with the serial numbers filed off. Weird Canadian weed. As such, I recommend a hollowed-out book safe, like these. Where else are you going to keep your powdered unicorn horn? You… do have powdered unicorn horn, right? (Amateur.)
21. A Weird Old Gigantic-Ass Dictionary
I have a dictionary that is almost a foot thick. This is a dictionary so big you could drop it on a rhino’s back and it would shatter its spine. You could use it to choke a blue whale. It is a book that requires many men to carry it, like the Ark of the Covenant. It is an artifact of language, an obelisk of wordography. Sometimes I love to just flip through it and find weird words I’ve never heard of before. Thus: crazy-big dictionary makes for great writerly present.
22. Any Random Reference Book
In my experience, penmonkeys love bizarre reference books. Any book referencing any subject (the gods of India, English language homophones, typewriters throughout the ages, a dictionary of slang spoken by Ukrainian lamp-makers) is like fucking gold for us and our writing. And when our next book features use of some weird Babylonian sex toy (“THE FIST OF HAMMURABI”), you’ll know that you were the one responsible for bringing it into our lives.
23. A Reason To Leave The House
Writers sit so long at our desks our ass-fat starts to merge with the pleather of our chairs. Give us an excuse to get up and go outside. Invite us for a walk. For dinner. For drinks. FOR A ROLLER DERBY GANG WAR IN THE MIDDLE OF CENTRAL PARK. Travel with us. Provide us with a reason to escape the gravity of our offices. You may need to force us out, but we’ll appreciate it.
24. Anything But A Blank Goddamn Notebook
Listen, I get it — you think, Ah, he’s a writer, and so he must write a lot inside little notebooks. It’s not entirely inaccurate. But you know how some gift-givers get caught on that one thing you theoretically like and give it to you every year (“You once said you liked ceramic wombats, so now every year I will buy you a new ceramic wombat”)? Yeah, lots of people seem to think writers need blank notebooks. We probably don’t. Not because we don’t use them or don’t like them. But we have computers. And smartphones. I have a small vault now of notebooks, and every once in a while I pull one out and scrawl a couple pages of notes and then marvel at just how improbably bad my handwriting is. I’m not saying that writers don’t need notebooks. We just don’t need hundreds of them from dozens of people. Authors should select one person who is allowed to give them notebooks. (Mine is Rob Donoghue, who has impeccable taste.)
25. Terribleminds Merch Oh My God I’m A Shameless Trollop
HOLY ATOMIC TITTY TWIRLERS — did I say “Terribleminds merchandise?” By the blessings of Sweet Saint Fuck, I sure did. Art Harder, Motherfucker? Certified Penmonkey? Oh my stars and garters! Ahem. Okay, fine, fine, you don’t actually have to buy that merch for the authors in your life — and yes, yes, I’m utterly shameless. (The shame centers of my brain were destroyed in the war. What war, you ask? The war on Christmas. How dare you judge a veteran!)