This is my favorite time of year. Christmas! Yeah, I said it. I dig it. Love giving gifts – and getting ’em. Hanukkah also works. Eight nights of presents, right on. So I thought I’d share my picks for the best gifts for writers. You’ll find 20+ gifts that may make your favorite writer’s life better, healthier, and/or easier. And many of these gifts writers probably didn’t even know they wanted! Plus, you’ll find gifts for every pocketbook. Want to give a writer something small just to show your support? You might find it here. Need a “wow” gift for a very special writer in your life? You just might find that here, too. Writers, your loved ones would probably appreciate a couple of helpful hints, especially in a nicely crafted email with a link to this post. Just saying.
While I put some of the company websites within the post, I also put Amazon links at the bottom so you can check out other reviews.
The FitDesk is awesome. Santa gave me mine two Christmases ago. It has been by far the best writer Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten. The concept is simple: It’s a stationary bike with a padded desk for your laptop. Your writer can write while pedaling and sweating. It’s a great way to exercise without feeling guilty about neglecting your writing. Think your writer won’t be able to concentrate on his script or novel while coordinating his feet? Well, consider this. Your writer probably spends an hour on Twitter, Facebook, Deadline Hollywood, Glass half-full in Hollywood, and other important Internet surfing. Why not spend that surf time pedaling? The FitDesk is perfect for these low concentration, time-sucking tasks. What’s more, your writer can also research his current project, watch videos, and/or catch up on his DVR. And I bet he’ll be surprised at how quickly he begins to integrate actual writing during his stationary cycling time. It puts a whole new spin on writing sprints. I love my FitDesk. It was easy to put together. It even folds up so it can stored in a closet, but I just have mine out all the time. It looks like they changed/improved the FitDesk a bit since I got mine. Two years ago the seat was rather narrow, so I switched it with a Schwinn touring seat. Now it looks like they’ve widened the seat to make it more comfortable.
Half the battle of writing is keeping your bum in chair and fingers on the keyboard. It’s really easy to forget that our bodies need to move. Our bodies actually work better when we’re active. We were designed to be hunting and gathering, not hunting and pecking. Wouldn’t it be great to have some kind of measurement of your activity, or inactivity? May I suggest the Fitbit. I got one last year. Love it. My Fitbit is almost always on me. (I take it off to shower. TMI?) The Fitbit measures the number of steps you take, the number of floors you climb, your mileage, and your caloric expenditure. It lets you know exactly how much activity you’ve done or haven’t done that day. Plus, it gives you real-time updates. The Fitbit automatically syncs to your online dashboard anytime it is within 15 feet of your computer and the Fitbit base station. With the Fitbit, your favorite writer has a constant tally encouraging her to get just a little “bit” more activity into her day. Plus, she’ll get lots of encouragement from accomplishing her goals.
The Fitbit is basically an enhanced pedometer. And you can get by with a much cheaper pedometer. However, the feature that sold me on the Fitbit was its ability to measure sleep efficiency. My sleep is a bit erratic. It’s been really helpful to track my sleep efficiency as it relates to what I ate and how much I exercised, etc. Plus, I’m addicted to the stair-climbing feature and online dashboard. And OK, I dig it when my Fitbit chatters at me. The Fitbit displays encouraging words throughout the day. I know when my Fitbit chatters “Hug me” that I need to step up my activity.
Day and night, I wear my Fitbit. In my e-chair, at a panel discussion, at a cocktail party, or at a movie premiere – you can’t see it but Fitbit is there. After hearing me rave about my Fitbit, several of my writer friends ran out and bought one for themselves. (Actually, they went online but it’s more romantic to imagine them running.)
Fitbit recently released the Fitbit One, which is an upgrade from the Fitbit Ultra, the version I have. I’ve asked Santa for the Fitbit One in burgundy. Please! They also recently released the Fitbit Zip, which just tracks steps, distance, and calories but syncs directly to a smartphone, computer, or iPad without a base station. For a little less than the other Fitbits, the Zip can encourage your writer to get in 10,000 steps a day, which was the whole point to begin with.
Imagine your favorite armchair with its own laptop desk that swings over your lap when you are sitting and out of your way when you get up. Instead of a reading armchair, it’s a writing armchair. Awesome, right? Several years ago I saw an e-chair on a talk show and fell head over heels in love. I had to have it – in purple – along with its matching storage ottoman on casters. My e-chair is indispensable to my writing. It’s so cool. It even has an electrical outlet built right into the chair. Unfortunately, Rowe furniture doesn’t make e-chairs anymore. However, you can find upholstered writing tablet armchairs online. You’ll find an Amazon link to one at the bottom of this post. Several furniture manufacturers make them for libraries. In fact, you might have seen one in your local library.
Here’s a link to a cool looking tablet arm chair, the Satori designed by Mark Saffell and David Ritch. (See photo below.) It’s a little pricy, but maybe you want something extra special for the writer on your list.
For writers with back problems or other ergonomic issues, a writing table chair might not be the best choice. I highly recommend testing one before purchasing. Again, I adore my e-chair and can’t get my mind around using a regular desk anymore.
Standing desks can be extremely beneficial for writers with back pain. Sometimes even sitting in the most ergonomically correct chair can be murder on some people’s backs. Sitting can cause constant pressure on intervertebral discs, especially in the lumbar region. Standing often alleviates this discomfort because it distributes the pressure more evenly. A standing desk might just be the perfect solution. Also, standing desks are great for people who want to increase their caloric expenditure while working. So you can kill two birds with one stone by reducing back pain and using some calories in the process.
You can create a standing desk, which is cheaper than buying ready-made ones if you’re up for the DIY factor. Ikea has some options that can be modified into standing desks. Lifehacker.com posted an Ikea guide to creating your own standing desk. You’ll have to judge if you want to tackle the task of building standing desk for or with your writer.
There are some ready-made alternatives. However, I haven’t tried them. As I mentioned, I use my e-chair for the majority of my writing. I did purchase a small standing laptop cart, which I use at my whiteboard and next to my Fitdesk. It’s on casters so I can roll it wherever I need it. I have mine adjusted to about 40 inches high, which works well for me. However, someone who is, say, 5’11” may prefer a standing desk that’s about 44 inches tall. Each person has to experiment with the right height for him. You’ll find a link to a less expensive version of the type of cart I have at the bottom of this post.
Adventurous writers might be interested in a treadmill desk. It’s a standing desk with a treadmill sans handrails underneath it. The LifeSpan treadmill desk seems well reviewed on Amazon. Check it out. If your writer already has a treadmill, you might want to take a look at the TrekDesk. It goes right over the front of a treadmill. If you’re DIY handy, here’s a link to a treadmill desk blog site that shows you how to make one for $39; the treadmill isn’t included in that price.
Dry erase board
There is something about writing ideas on a whiteboard that makes them suddenly clearer. Just ask Dr. House – and pretty much every Hollywood screenwriter. Writers rooms usually employ several dry erase boards, cork boards, and a clear plastic tub of Red Vines. (I don’t know why writers rooms always seem to have Red Vines but they do.) If your writer has the real estate, a 48 inch by 36 inch whiteboard would be an awesome gift – along with an extra pack of multi-colored dry erase markers and a spray bottle of marker board cleaner. Writers can get by without a cork board – they can just put Post-its on their whammy new whiteboard. I think a dry erase board with its easy to erase acreage is a luxury worth devoting wall space to.
Noise canceling headphones
Noisy office mate? Cellphone talker projecting to the cheap seats? Raucous bunch of writers not writing at the local coffee shop?! Not a problem with noise canceling headphones. There are lots of different brands that work really well. I have a mid-range pair, the Sony MDR-NC40 to be exact. You can pay hundreds for Bose and from what I hear, they’re great. But I just wanted headphones that would cancel noise. I’m not a DJ. I’m not a audio technician. I don’t listen to a lot of music while writing. I pop on my headphones when I’m on my FitDesk or on an airplane. I don’t write in coffee shops or public places, but these Sonys would do the trick if I did. And they cost about $65.
Macbook Pro with Retina display
I debated about putting the Macbook Pro on the list because every writer knows he needs a good laptop. It’s fundamental to our profession. I decided to put the Macbook Pro on the list because most of Hollywood writers I know use Macs. It’s the preferred tool of our trade. And it’s something we spend a lot of time looking at.
I just upgraded my Macbook Pro to the new version with the Retina display. It’s killer. The screen has much less glare than my last Macbook Pro. The glare really bothered me before. The new Macbook Pro is, of course, faster. I got a bigger hard drive, which I desperately needed. Apple slimmed the Macbook Pro down so it’s very lightweight. They accomplished part of this weight reduction by taking out the optical drive, which can be a bummer. To remedy this, I just got an Apple optical drive accessory and it works like a charm. So if you’re granting wishes this year for some amazingly lucky writer, you cannot go wrong with the new Macbook Pro. Upgrading from Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion was a bit of a beast, but it’s still worth the faster processing speed, reduced screen glare, and all the other whammy Apple i-ness you get.
External hard drive
Nothing says “Bah humbug” like your hard drive crashing. You can’t recreate genius. It just doesn’t work that way. You can get close but you’ll always feel like you lost something and you have. Be your favorite writer’s personal savior by giving him an external hard drive. I just got the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex one terabyte. It’s small, lightweight, and comes in different colors, if that matters to you. There are many hard external drives on the market. You may have to do a little research on what brand will work best for your writer’s computer. Mac users should check out Super Duper and Carbon Copy Cloner apps to make regular backups easy.
Apple TV and/or Roku
This is a frequent writer’s dilemma. You’re writing and suddenly you realize the project you’re working on has elements like that BBC series you saw on PBS last year. That show expertly dealt with that same issue you’re dealing with. What was the name of that show again? “Luther.” Yeah! You need to re-watch the entire series, which is about ten episodes total for two seasons. Yes, you can watch it on your computer or your iPad, but if you’re really going to invest the time, why not watch it on your flat screen? That’s where Apple TV and Roku come in.
I have both.
On the Roku, I have easy access to my Amazon films and TV shows. On my Apple TV, I have access to all my iTunes films and TV show library. Why have both? I love my small, handheld devices for convenience but if I have a choice I prefer to watch content on my flat screen. Filmmakers and show creators often make choices for larger canvases. Writing for moving pictures isn’t just about dialogue and plot, it’s about visual, emotional storytelling. We’re making cinematic experiences.
Seeing a film or a TV show on a larger landscape gives me more of the experience I’m trying to recreate, so for me Roku and Apple TV are essential to my profession. If your writer is writing for the screen, why not make it easy for her to watch content on a bigger screen? Roku and Apple TV both stream nicely.
Scrivener is great for screenwriters, novelists – all kinds of writers. This powerful little app organizes your works in progress beautifully. You compose within the app, then you can export your work directly into Final Draft, Microsoft Word, rich text, OpenOffice, plain text, or HTML. What’s more, Scrivener allows to you collect all your research in one place and marry it to your ongoing project. The app costs $45 and I think it’s worth every penny. It has made my writing life a lot easier. I just wrote a pilot on it and plan to put my novel into it next. Perhaps your writer will love it as well.
Writing books I read every year
Want to find the perfect writing book for your favorite writer? You could easily get overwhelmed with your choices. When searching on Amazon, 176,890 paperback and 62,374 hardback books pop up for writing. Let me narrow the field for you. There are four books I read every year. Each time I read them, they still offer precious pearls of wisdom and inspiration. These aren’t how-to books. These aren’t breaking into Hollywood books. These books share hard-won wisdom from writers to writers. These are like old friends that any writer at any level can lean on during those cold, lonely hours of uncertainty.
Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” is one of the best books on writing – period. Every writer should at least check it out of the library and give it a read. The third chapter alone, titled “Shitty First Drafts,” can embolden a writer to keep pushing through whatever crappy thing he is writing right now and have hope it’ll someday be wondrous to behold. I often give this book to friends who are starting their first screenplay, novel, non-fiction book, etc. Written in a down-to-earth, inspiring, no nonsense way, “Bird by Bird” is well-recieved across the board. Thank you, Anne Lamott, for writing such a generous, funny, lovely book.
Another old friend is Stephen King’s “On Writing.” In it, Steve describes his humble beginnings, which to me is the most interesting part of the book. Successful writers talking about struggling – color me fascinated because that’s the job. Certain aspects of the business get easier over time but every project is its own mountain to climb. Many days the job is just you and the screen. All the trappings fall away. I could easily be typing on that student desk in the laundry room of Steve and Tabitha’s trailer praying I write something half as good as “Carrie.” “On Writing” inspires me yearly. It tells the ultimate writer’s American dream story, and that’s something no writer can resist.
In his book “The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters,” Karl Iglesias interviews some of the top screenwriters in the business to find out when they wake up, what they eat for breakfast, if they exercise, when they take lunch, and other juicy, mundane tidbits of famous screenwriters’ daily lives. Ed Solomon likes big whiteboards. Leslie Dixon feels more clever after noon. Eric Roth likes to work in the middle of the night when he is “sort of half-asleep.”
This book sits in the first cubby of my bookshelf. I see it every day. It dares me to remember what I’m supposed to be doing. And while my habits aren’t exactly like the writers in the book (several eschew caffeine!), I’m reminded to do the things that make me productive.
There is a new edition of the book “The 101 Highly Successful Habits of Screenwriters: Insider Secrets from Hollywood Screenwriters.” However, from reading the Amazon reviews, it seems the new edition isn’t dramatically different from the original. If your writer already owns the first edition, she may already have the bulk of the new edition.
“The Tools of Screenwriting” by David Howard and Edward Mabley is a critical examination of screenwriting. And it’s the only book on screenwriting that has stood the test of time on my bookshelf. There are many other helpful screenwriting books, but as my skills and interest in the craft have evolved, I continue to learn from “The Tools of Screenwriting.”
Full disclosure: I was fortunate enough to have David Howard as my thesis advisor in film school. What an honor. So I’m a bit biased. But don’t take my word for it, read what the illustrious feature filmmaker, former artistic director of the Sundance Institute, former co-chair of the Columbia University Film School, and former dean of USC’s Film School, Frank Daniel, had to say about this book:
What the would-be screenwriter needs most is an unbiased, non-dogmatic introduction to dramatic structural principles and an understanding of the different narrative techniques and storytelling devices that cinema has learned to use. David Howard has wisely outlined this area for himself and covered it in a concise, readable, knowledgeable, and intelligible manner. He has also been very generous with his pointers, advice, and admonitions about screenwriting and storytelling.
What’s more, Professor Howard has broken down some of the best screenplays in the Hollywood history: “Chinatown,” “Some Like it Hot,” “Citizen Kane,” “The 400 Blows,” “Rashomon,” and more. Just like re-watching a favorite movie, I love to go back and read the analyses for these great films.
Coffee shop gift cards
Yes, it’s true: lots of writers drink coffee. And flock to coffee shops to write. What’s more, we meet other writers in coffee shops. Starving or not, all writers love free food. Having your grande non-fat mocha latte already paid for can be a beautiful thing. Starbucks gift cards are probably a good bet, unless you know your writer prefers a specific coffee shop.
iTunes gift cards
When you’re a writer, you have to consume entertainment. Whether it’s songs, movies, TV shows, apps, books, or – my favorite – audiobooks, your writer can find something at the iTunes store for her craft. In fact, Final Draft has an iPad app available through iTunes. It’s perfect for script changes on the go, including when you’re on set.
Amazon gift certificates
I purchase a lot of content from Amazon – usually in the form of books, DVDs, Blu-rays, and online streaming. When I was in grad school, I’d save my Amazon gift certificates from Christmas so I could treat myself to something later in the year. Often it would be research relating to my work in progress. While gift cards and certificates aren’t glamorous, they’re very much appreciated by young writers who often need something very specific, something you couldn’t have anticipated: a book on the Golden Age of Reason or a documentary on human trafficking in Asia. Often the writer doesn’t know what she needs until she gets to that sticking point in the story. Once we’re there, we can become obsessed. Having a gift certificate tucked away for that August research binge can make all the difference in the next novel or script.
Have you seen the price of movie tickets lately? What screenwriter wouldn’t love a free movie? Everyone I know loves a free movie, whether it’s a screening, a screener, or a pass from a generous, thoughtful, insightful loved one. Obviously, theaters sell gift cards and passes. You’ll find Amazon links to AMC and Regal theater movie passes below. Also, Costco sells movie tickets for a reduced price.
A writer’s real wish
From a brand new Mac to a cup of coffee, these are my picks for the best gifts for writers. I hope you find something wonderful for your someone special. I want to take a moment to say that your writer is incredibly fortunate to have you in her life. I hear so many tales about writers whose loved ones don’t support them. Who tell them to give up this crazy dream. Who tell them they aren’t good or talented enough.
I feel so fortunate to get to do what I love for a living. I’m very blessed to have wonderful loved ones who supported my desire to be a writer. Not everyone has someone who believes in them. Kudos to you for being a writer’s supporter. Thank you for encouraging an artist to go after the dream. With a simple cup of coffee (or cocoa), you can say, “I believe in you.” And that’s pretty wonderful.
Fitdesk – stationary bike with laptop platform
Safco adjustable height standing desk – ready-made standing desk
Laptop standing desk cart – standing laptop desk cart
LifeSpan treadmill desk – desk plus treadmill
TrekDesk – desk that fits over your existing treadmill
Fitbit Ultra – activity and sleep monitoring device
Fitbit One – upgraded activity and sleep monitoring device
Universal Dry Erase Board You may want to pick this up at your local office supply store. Several Amazon reviewers noted their dry erase boards were cracked or broken during shipping. However, the comments on this link say this particular Amazon-affiliated company does a better job shipping than most.
Roku 2 XS 1080p streaming player Roku 2 XS has both Ethernet and USB ports. Plus, it includes “Angry Birds.”
Scrivener 2 Amazon sells both Mac and Windows version of the Scrivener app.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Ann Lamott
On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
The Tools of Screenwriting: A Writer’s Guide to the Craft and Elements of a Screenplay by David Howard and Edward Mabley
iTunes gift card
Happy holiday hunting! I hope you find the perfect gift for that special writer in your life. Cheers!