Ditch the Fancy Pens: 12 Gifts for Writers

In the November/December issue of WD, we featured a batch of holiday gifts for writers, as picked by WD editors. In case you missed the issue, here they are, recapped with some new additions—so that the writer in your life doesn’t end up with another fancy notebook he’s scared to write in, even with a fancy pen. (I have a small stack of journals awaiting $40 thoughts.)
Beyond these, what are some of your recommendations for writers?

“Writers can make a classy and professional statement with personalized note cards. I use FineStationery.com (where it’s fun to create mock-ups). To really splurge for the writer in your life, choose a letterpress printing option. Unforgettable.”
Jane Friedman, publisher and editorial director

“I always think a good book is the best gift you can give—but why stop there? Give the perfect winter reading experience by pairing a coveted title with a cozy throw and an indulgence of hot chocolate mix, a tea sampler or a bottle of wine. My personal fireside favorite? Any cocoa from Godiva.”
Jessica Strawser, WD editor

“The iPhone 3GS features a voice recorder and notebook for capturing ideas on the fly, a camera, video camera and zillions of apps, such as dictionaries, thesauruses and e-readers. And with the Internet at your fingertips, it’s a snap to keep up with industry news and blogs. I don’t know how writers live without them.”
Alice Pope, WD Market Books managing editor

“In lieu of a plane ticket to Key West to check out Hemingway’s house and herd of legendary six-toed cats, pick up a copy of Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon’s Novel Destinations—a definitive travel guide for writers that ventures into all the literary corners most guidebooks overlook. Wildly useful for any getaway.”
Zac, WD managing editor

“For writers who like to make lots of notes and tack up story outlines and scene cards, a small bulletin board is great for displaying all the pieces of your work-in-progress. It’s also a good place to hang inspiring stories about authors, photos of hip writing spaces and positive mantras to keep you moving during less productive times. These visual reminders of your goal—to be your own success story—can help keep you grounded.”
Kelly Nickell, WD Books executive editor

And some new picks …

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night board game: Call me selfish for leading off with this one (or, call me Ishmael), but I want this game in which you’re tasked with guessing the title or author of books after hearing their opening lines. (Take note, family members.)

Moleskine City Notebooks: OK, so I may have been bashing fancy notebooks a minute ago. But Moleskine’s are battle tested, and to give a thoughtful writerly gift, all you need do is figure out where your writer is taking a trip in 2010. Las Vegas? Done. Madrid? Si. They come with maps, sections to keep you organized, and even tracing paper.

Fancy things from Levenger: Euro Desk System. Duet Fortunata Tote Bag. True Writer Kyoto Clock Paperweight.

Writer’s Digest Swag
: I bought WD products long before I worked here, so I’d mention them in this roundup even if I was still a police reporter. Check out back issues of the magazine and oodles of books, including the handsome 2010 Writer’s Market. Or, if you’re like me and lagging on your present quota this year, drop by your favorite bookstore Dec. 22 to pick up a copy of the February 2010 issue of WD (my new pitch: It’s so awesome it scooped Santa Claus).

A new digital voice recorder: Tired of steering with your knees while balancing a pad of paper and jotting down fleeting ideas? Grab a new recorder. We recently acquired a Sony ICD-UX71 (a sleek red digital recorder with 287 hours of space and a direct USB connection), and so far, we’re impressed.

A bookstore gift certificate (with stipulation that it not be spent on Frappuccinos): Old reliable = cheating? Probably. But what better way to sharpen your writing than by reading?

Bookends: Personal favorites of mine include James Thurber’s dogs and lounging polar bears. The best part about bookends? They add a new level to your bookshelf, and can be used to establish rogue bookshelves wherever you choose. (Be warned: Googling “bookends” can lead to several hours of lost time.)

Gift That Made You Gag

Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional around-the-office swag drawings.

Revisit a scene from your past and write about a gift you once received that shocked you—for better or worse.

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2 thoughts on “Ditch the Fancy Pens: 12 Gifts for Writers

  1. Mark James

    Zac: I don’t really have a past. I’m not even sure how I got here . . .
    Martha: That was hysterical.

    “And you got this for my birthday, cause why?”

    Emmie ducked behind the stone column hiding us. “You said work was boring.”

    I pulled her head down. “I don’t remember saying I wanted to be eaten or trampled.”

    “You’re not mad, right?”

    I dragged my daughter to her feet, pushed her in front of me toward a slit in the cliff wall. “No. I always wanted to be dinosaur food. Can you run any faster, Em?”

    She made it to the cave in front of us, slipped into the dark, then backed out screaming. “Snakes. Bunches of them.”

    “How much time did you buy?”

    She bit her lips, avoided my face.

    “Em? Talk to me.”

    “Two hours.”

    Christ. We were stuck in here for two days.

    The ground shook, rocks hurtled down the cliff face.

    “Dinosaur.” I grabbed her arm. “Come on. We need to find cover.”

    This time I didn’t need to tell her to run faster. The dinosaur let out a roar that would have curdled my blood if I had any.

    We ran downhill, heading for a string of low stone outcroppings that looked like the heads on Easter Island, except their mouths were wide open.

    I went in first, Em inches behind me. Nothing; just dim darkness. Didn’t seem like there was anything hissing or crawling or trying to kill me.

    This was way too much like work, but I didn’t have the heart to tell Emily. She thought I was an accountant.

    Something that looked like a cross between a snake and a cat slithered out of the dark, its green eyes glowing, its mouth pulled back on two rows of double fangs. I forgot where I was, pulled my knife, and cut right through it. The head fell at Em’s feet.

    She leapt over it as nimbly as a pirate jumping ship. “Where’d you learn how to do that, dad?”

    “Special accounting class—Business Jungle Survival.”

    “And you like your present? I saved up all year for it.”

    A red drop fell between her white sneakers.

    I looked up. The roof was moving; no, it was crawling with a blanket of bugs that looked like bright green dragonflies.

    “You think they bite?” she said.

    If that was blood on the ground between her feet, they bit something. Details weren’t important. “Go out the way we came, nice and slow.”

    She backed up, stumbled on a rock, landed in the dirt with a thump and a startled scream.

    The bugs floated down from the roof, like green mist, hundreds of them.

    I caught her hand, hauled her up, pushed her toward the mouth of the cave. “Go. Get out.”


    I found a place in the shade of a boulder that was bigger than most houses. Seemed like being out in the open, not moving, made it hard to track us.

    When I found the idiot who sold a fifteen year old a Full Contact Virtual Danger Vacation, there was gonna be one less idiot in the world. “Sweetheart?”

    She wiped away what might have been a tear. “You don’t like it, do you?”

    I stroked her hair, kissed the top of her head. “Next year, buy me dinner.”

  2. Martha W

    Zac – I thought my wish list was complete with the Crit Group Survival Guide, Grammar Desk Ref, and WD2009 on CD — but now I have to add bookends??? Ack!

    Mark – You know I couldn’t resist this one right? I actually laughed while writing it! *grin*


    Chrissy flew down the stairs, taking them two at a time. She’d asked for two things for Christmas this year – a new car and a Coach purse. A grin slid across her face. The oldest trick in the book. Ask for something outrageous to get the thing she really wanted. A used car.

    She didn’t really care which kind, just one that ran and looked halfway decent. Like a Malibu or something.

    "What’s the rush?"

    Her father’s voice was gruff. She must have woken him up. "Nothing…" she sang on her way around the corner of the banister, "it’s just Christmas, is all."

    He chuckled. "Well, I guess we should get your mom up then. Although she won’t appreciate the six o’clock alarm."

    "She’ll get over it." She grinned over her shoulder at him as she disappeared through the living room archway.

    And slid to a halt in front of an empty tree.


    "What, honey?" came the muffled reply. Still upstairs.

    "There’s nothing here!" The panic rose in her chest. How could there be nothing under the tree?

    "Hhm?" Her mother rounded the corner, rubbing the last of the sleep from her eyes. "What do you mean there’s nothing here? Open your eyes, dear."

    Chrissy focused on the tree this time, already painfully aware that nothing sat under the tree. She noticed, now, the little envelopes perched on the evergreen branches. One with each of their names on it.

    She launched herself across the room to snatch hers off the tree. It was a little heavy… just the perfect weight for a key. She slipped her finger under the flap and freed the sealed edge. Tipping the envelope over, she dumped the key to a Chevy in her palm.

    She stood for a moment, stunned. It had worked. They bought her a car. Tears in her eyes, she grabbed both of them in a bear hug. Her dad laughed, "Whoa, baby. Why don’t you go check the drive?"

    As Chrissy rushed from the house she heard the tinkling sound of her mother’s giggle followed by shushing from her father. Curious but not enough to slow her down. Passing the last bush in the landscaping, she came to a stumbling halt. Her labored breathing more from the sight before her than the flight out of her home.
    "What is this?"

    "It’s a Bluebird. Like you asked for." Her dad walked past her to pat the ancient school bus’s fender. "Though I’m a little confused why you asked for a bus."

    "I. Said. Bumblebee. Like. Transformers." She couldn’t stop the embarrassment from bubbling up inside. What was she going to do with this?

    He sighed. "Oh." Then he tapped the glass door and the bus sprang to life, backing down the drive to reveal a Rally Yellow Camaro complete with a big red bow. "You mean like this?"


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