What to Get your Favorite Writer for the Holidays

If you have a writer in your life — and really, who doesn’t? — you may be wondering what to get for him or her this holiday season. Naturally, I have some helpful suggestions, sure to bring a smile to the wordsmith in your life.

An autographed copy of his favorite book by his favorite author. If you’re considering this option, you’re either very thoughtful or very wealthy. Or both. Good for you. That being the case, you have already probably bought your writer friend countless dinners when he was short on cash, and maybe even filled his decade-old Honda Civic with gas once or twice. So this is that extra-mile gift, the one that says “Dude, enjoy this, because it’s the last thing you are getting from me until you can start paying for your share of the pizza.” The nice thing about this gift is that the scrawled inscription of his hero will inspire and encourage him when he’s feeling positive, and shame him mercilessly when he’s flailing around in self-doubt and indecision. Just like you would do if you could be there. Awww.

An office supply store gift card. It sounds trite, but if the writer in your life is anything like me, there is no place she would rather kill writing time than an office supply store. Leather bound journals with blank pages we can stare at for hours. Planners, calendars, list-makers, and grid paper — all suitable for outlining complex plots and ingenious ways of tricking ourselves into writing on a regular schedule. Folders, binders, notebooks. And color coding — oh my goodness. Innumerable tools — maps, software packages, reference guides — that we can use for “research.” And the pens. Dear God, the pens. It’s all such a turn-on. Not a figurative turn-on, either, but a serious, heavy-breathing, inky-fingered sexual thrill. Your writer will open that envelope, give an involuntary gasp, and whisper “I am going to procrastinate. I am going to procrastinate so damn hard.” And you thought this would be impersonal.

A free pass to use something from your life in her novel. This is kind of like the coupons that lovers give one another for free shoulder rubs or a night of doing the dishes. Except you’re giving over a part of yourself. It could be something quirky about you, like the fact that you have to line your food up alphabetically in the pantry before you can make dinner (which will make her hard-as-nails feminist detective seem more human and approachable) or something deeply personal, like your history of dating jerks who look suspiciously like your father. You don’t really get to choose, actually, but one day you’ll be reading your friend’s novel and come across a bit of you, right there in black and white for the whole world to read. Your cheeks will flush with embarrassment and anger. You will confront your friend, and she’ll give you a sheepish grin and the coupon you gave her in December 2012. Voila! Friendship saved. Not to mention you don’t have to spend a dime on her for the holidays this year. Lord knows she won’t be spending much on you.

A crappy childhood. Every writer needs a suffocatingly boring, chronically strained or downright traumatic childhood he can draw from in his writing. To be effective, a childhood must be happy enough to produce a semi-stable human being, and yet awful enough to provide the rich experience (and perpetual ennui) needed to be a successful writer. Now, unless you are the parent of an adolescent novelist, it may be too late to give your writer the crappy childhood he really needs. But what you can do is sort of a reverse Pollyanna: ask your writer to talk about his life, and point out the terrible side of everything he says. Grew up middle-class in a suburban home with unassuming parents who stayed together and loved him? Sounds like a bunch of vanilla, Stepford, cultural fascists to me… You get the idea.

A Kindle, nook, or iPad, pre-loaded with her favorite authors and the MLA style guide. There’s no snarky explanation for this one. That’s a damn nice gift. Need another writer friend? I’m available!

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NaNoWriMo – How’d You Do?

It’s the first Monday of December, and all over the world, the participants of NaNoWriMo are either (a) celebrating their huge accomplishments, (b) explaining at length why they fell short of their goals, or (c) trying to pretend that they never really set out to do this crazy 50,000 word project anyway. It’s like the morning after a raging bachelor party: everyone is either trying to make it sound like it was more fun than it really was, or to distance themselves from the humiliation as much as possible.

I want to congratulate my two virtual writing buddies, Ann and Gus, who both made the goal and are Winners in the eyes of NaNoWriMo and everyone else who knows them. Awesome, guys!

As for me and the three R’s (my little group of friends here in Atlanta), we are a mixed bag. Ross, the one among us who had the least writing experience and the most ambitious energy at the outset is by far in the best shape: He made it well past 30,000 words and realized that his entire project could be completed in less than 40,000; so even though he is not in sight of the official 50K goal, going from nothing to an almost-complete novella is nothing to sneeze at.

The second R, Rob, developed an outstanding concept out of nowhere, and clocked several thousand words in the first couple of weeks. This being his first foray into creative writing in several years, I would venture to say he’s in the process of learning how long-form fiction can fit into his busy life. There’s also something extra challenging about having NO IDEA where you are going with a piece when you start. He was really brave to sit down and attempt it, and I’m hoping he will stick with the idea that formed in the coming months as it germinates and grows.

The remaining two of us abandoned our projects mid-stream, both realizing that our energies needed to go elsewhere in our writing lives (and with a household that could not stay healthy during November, I had fewer energies than usual to begin with). My friend Ryan realized he was essentially writing a prequel to the actual novel he wants to write; while I found myself lured away by a different project altogether.

Yes, I was distracted by a shiny object and, no, I’m not even all that embarrassed about it. I’ve come to respect and embrace this as part of my process. I’ve also come to realize that there is no way to say the words “part of my process” without sounding like a complete ass. And there you have it.

As of now, I don’t think I’ll be back next November. I wrote earlier about how I don’t think NaNoWriMo suits my working style at this point in life. I am, however, trying to capture the urgency and non-critical writing that comes with it. The other aspect of NaNoWriMo that is key is about making writing a priority: asking for help from partners, taking time out from other hobbies and activities, etc. I’m not someone who can put writing first every single day — at least not at this stage — but I do think it’s helpful to see how much I can accomplish when I bump it higher on my priority list.

What about you guys? Did you participate this year? What did you learn? What would you do differently next time?