“It’s that time of year / when the world falls in love” – and tries to find a perfect gift for that someone special! If your someone special is a writer, you’re in luck. On my 2014 writers wish list, you’ll find more than 20 gifts writers will love.
Year-round, I look for gifts that will make writers’ lives better, healthier, and easier. If you want to look beyond the usual pens and journals, these are thoughtful, useful gifts most writers will be psyched to open. My past writers wish lists have been well received and still offer great ideas. Here’re links to the 2012 wish list and 2013 wish list.
This year I’m suggesting a fantastic new eBook creation app, a treasure trove of entertainment industry insider videos, a clever way to get that coffee house experience in your own home, and several other cool ideas for the writer in your life.
You’ll find distinctive gifts that fit a range of budgets. Want to find something small but meaningful that will show a writer you support her and her craft? Need a “wow” gift for that special writer in your life? Looking for that perfect gesture that won’t cost a dime but might mean the world to your favorite writer? You might just find them here on these gift lists.
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.
(Psst, writers, are you coveting something special to help you with your career or a current project? Your loved ones probably would appreciate a helpful hint, especially in a nicely crafted email with a link to this post. Just saying.)
Your own personal coffee shop in 2 (maybe 3) steps
Lots of writers love to write in coffee shops. We love the caffeine and the ambient white noise of the café itself. Here’s a way to bring the coffee shop to your favorite writer’s home. It’s a two-step, maybe three-step, process. First, you’ll need a great coffee machine.
Keurig brewing system
Keurig revolutionized coffee brewing with its single-cup portion packs. You brew individual cups of coffee, so you never waste coffee or have to drink sludge that’s been sitting in pot for awhile. Every cup is fresh brewed and delicious. Plus, the K-Cups – the individual dispensers designed for the Keurig brewing systems – come in a variety of flavors. You can get everything from cappuccino to French roast, just like at your favorite coffee shop.
The Keurig Elite series has an add-on reusable coffee filter. It’s called the My K-Cup reusable coffee filter. The My K-Cup reusable coffee filter saves money and helps address sustainability issues.
If coffee isn’t your writer’s thing, the Keurig also makes hot cocoa, apple cider, and a variety of teas. The K-Cups are available in most grocery stores, and you can get even better deals on them in higher-quantity packages.
Next, you’ll need the sound of the coffee shop. Meet…
Coffitivity is an app with a library of coffeehouse sounds from around the world. You can download the free version of the app, or you can subscribe to the premium service for $3 to $9. You can play Coffitivity along with your own music or by itself. When I’m trying to drown out the ambient noise of my life, like my very vocal cat, I slip on my noise-canceling headphones and click on Coffitivity.
Here’s a link to Coffitivity.
Optional accessory: Noise-canceling headphones
I love my Sony noise canceling headphones. I’m not an audiophile. I just want something that sounds reasonably good and blocks out the sound around me. My Sony headphones do the trick. I use them on my many flights, on my Fitdesk, and during my power writing sessions. I’ve had them for years, and they’ve really held up. In fact, I’ve had them for so long Sony has replaced this model with newer versions.
The options for noise canceling headphones have grown. There are more wireless Bluetooth models, which can be very nice, especially if you’re moving from your computer to your whiteboard or your coffeemaker.
If coffee isn’t your writer’s favorite drink, perhaps he’ll love this next idea.
The first thing I added to my writers office was a mini-refrigerator. It’s great to offer guests a cold drink when they come to chat about projects. Writers, you’ll also love having water, Coke, and Diet Coke (my fav) at hand when you’re writing. Having provisions means you don’t have to leave your office and break your concentration when in you’re in the groove.
I purchased a slightly larger mini-fridge than the super-cute Nostalgia Electrics version. I got this 2.5-cubic-foot fridge with a stainless steel door by SPT. It’s quiet and does a great job cooling lots of drinks.
Dorothy Parker is attributed with this truism: “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” As a result, writers are notoriously sedentary. One way to combat a dangerous lack of exercise is to track your activity. It can be incredibly motivating to see your activity (or lack of activity) levels tallied for the day, week, and month.
I was an early adopter of the Fitbit and am addicted to my Fitbit One. The Fitbit One tracks your steps and flights of steps. You can tackle stairs even when the weather outside is bleak, though we usually don’t have to worry about the weather in LA.
The Fitbit One also tracks your sleep habits. Tracking the hours I spend in bed has helped me understand my sleep patterns better.
I also dig the chatter feature on my Fitbit One. When my Fitbit One sends me an encouraging message, I get a little boost from it. It’s nice to think my Fitbit One is rooting for me.
There are plenty of fitness trackers on the market now. Find one that suits your writer’s needs and will motivate her to get her rear-end out of the chair – at least once in a while.
Note: I also tried the Aria scale by Fitbit. Alas, it was an epic fail. It wouldn’t stay synced with my Mac. It couldn’t keep track of two different users. And it wasn’t accurate. I went back to my $30 Conair scale. It only measures total body weight, but at least it’s accurate.
Macs rule Hollywood. The shiny aluminum unibodies with their backlit Apple logos are de rigueur in the entertainment industry. Having a Mac isn’t a status thing. Writers spend a lot of time with their laptops; we need the best tools to create. Macs tend to have more intuitive software and outperform in creative arenas than their PC counterparts. For me, the MacBook Pro is the tool of choice.
I recently had to decide between a MacBook Pro and a MacBook Air. I’ve been traveling quite a bit. And while the MacBook Air is attractive because it’s lightweight, I still opted for the versatility of the MacBook Pro. The MBP accommodates more RAM and longer-duration battery than the MacBook Air. Beyond writing, I work a lot with HD video files, so I need a workhorse of a laptop. If you’re just writing and want a lightweight laptop, the MacBook Air may be the perfect fit.
iPad Air 2
I tend to hold on to my gear for a while, but the new iPad Air 2 is a significant improvement on earlier versions. It’s lighter and thinner. It makes my third-gen iPad feel like a lead paperweight. The new iPad Air 2 is faster than previous iPads, and it’s the first one to include 2 GB of RAM. The iPad isn’t as vital as my MacBook Pro, but I do use it frequently to read scripts, novels, and other development properties. I use its Internet connectivity on the road. And, of course, I watch films and TV shows on it.
I prefer my MacBook Pro for writing, so I haven’t written a script on my iPad. However, if you’re going to be on a remote set, access to the Internet and Final Draft (more about that below) could be crucial. For filmmakers, the iPad has multiple tools, including a movie-slate app and a director’s viewfinder app.
My keyboard suffers many indignities, primarily Diet Coke- and food-related. None disastrous so far – thank goodness – but I appreciate an extra layer of protection between my snacking habits and my precious keys. The best keyboard protector I’ve tried is the Uppercase Ultra Thin Clear Soft TPU keyboard cover skin. It fits my MPB keyboard perfectly. It’s clear and lightweight. The durable, non-toxic, premium-grade thermoplastic polyurethane boasts an amazing 0.18mm thickness, or should I say thin-ness. It maintains its form without being sticky or inflexible. It has almost the same feel as typing without a keyboard cover, which I appreciate.
Final Draft screenwriting software
If your favorite writer wants to write screenplays and doesn’t have Final Draft yet, this software should be at the top of his wish list. The industry standard in screenwriting software, Final Draft helps writers get through their first, second, third, fifth, and ninth drafts. Final Draft makes it easier to finish scripts faster and maintain proper feature and TV screenplay format. It includes more than 100 feature and TV series templates. Writers simply choose the appropriate template and begin their scripts. As writers write, Final Draft remembers character names and scene locations for the individual scripts. Often writers only need to type the first letters of those elements and the software fills in the rest.
All the margins and elements are macro-ed into the program. Using the tab function, writers advance the cursor to the various element positions – scene heading, description, character name, parenthetical, transitions, and beginning and end of acts. Writers can also set their own templates or change elements.
The Final Draft screenwriting software takes all the guesswork out of screenplay formatting so writers can focus on the most important part – writing. If your favorite writer plans to tackle a script in the new year, Final Draft should be a welcome gift. Note that there’s an iPad app version of Final Draft, too. It provides fewer features, but it can be invaluable on set.
Vellum eBook creation software
Love an indie novel writer? Here’s the perfect gift: Vellum eBook creation software. Vellum, an app for the Mac, converts your favorite writer’s finished novel into an eBook. Then your novelist can upload her novel to Kindle, iBooks, or Nook.
Vellum takes a previously torturous process and makes it painless. My publisher discovered Vellum and used it to convert my book, Myth of Crime, into an eBook. I told my friend Jennifer Quintenz, author of the Daughters Of Lilith series, about Vellum. She immediately tried it and emailed me within an hour to rave about Vellum.
The Vellum team at 180g, led by two Pixar veterans, has been incredibly responsive. For instance, I have a real-world physics equation with subscript and superscript characters in my novel. When Amazon’s iPad app version of Myth of Crime didn’t display the equation correctly, my publisher contacted the Vellum team. In a matter of hours, they had identified the problem with Amazon’s iPad app conversion, addressed it within Vellum, and updated the software. Now the equation displays perfectly in every edition!
With Vellum, writers can see what their eBook will look like across multiple eReader platforms in real-time. This takes the guesswork and tedium out of the process. Vellum not only makes it easy to convert manuscripts into e-books, but it also can be used as a word processing program. In other words, writers can write their novels directly in Vellum.
Vellum itself is free, but its eBook generation packages are on sale as of November 27, 2014. Here’s a link directly to Vellum’s site for our wish list.
UPDATE: The folks at Vellum were kind enough to assemble e-book generation gift packages for our site. Check them out!
Amazon Prime and Netflix subscriptions
Film and TV writers must watch lots of films and TV shows. (Yes, it’s our own cross to bear.) Two of the best subscription services are Amazon Prime and Netflix. Amazon Prime costs $99 for a year, with various discounts available. It includes unlimited streaming of Amazon’s 40,000-title catalogue, plus free two-day shipping and the Kindle lending library of more than 500,000 eBooks. You can also stream music. Note: Even with the Amazon Prime subscription, you may have to pay for some of Amazon’s fare that’s not included with the subscription. Still, it can be a terrific value.
Netflix plans start at $7.99 a month. You can opt to get just video streaming or add their DVD/BluRay mail delivery service. The DVD or BluRay mail delivery options give you access to even more titles. Probably one of the biggest advantages of Netflix is its original programming. Netflix has developed some great shows like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards.
The aspect I dig the most about both of these services is the ability to connect my laptop to my TV and stream movies and TV shows. I have Roku in one room, but sometimes I want to watch something on another TV. I love the flexibility to stream from my laptop.
Writers Guild Foundation videos
The Writers Guild Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides educational resources for established and emerging screenwriters. On its website, the WGF has a collection of videos from its past speaker series. For example, there are videos of writer-producer Beau Willimon talking about creating House of Cards and writer Michael Bacall chating about writing 21 Jump Street with Jonah Hill.
Some of these videos are free. Some have a fee. From my understanding, the fees go to support the WGF and the production of these and future videos. Surprise your special writer with an insider’s view on the industry and support a worthy cause.
Here’s a link to the Writers Guild Foundation’s online video library.
Samsonite Luggage Xenon 2 Mobile Office
I mentioned I’ve been traveling a lot this year, which has me blogging less than I like. As a result, I’ve needed handy-dandy travel gear. I used to carry my laptop in a rolling backpack, but I kept getting dinged at the gate to check my backpack. This was a big problem because I only carried my electronics in my backpack. After a bit of research, I replaced my rolling backpack with the Samsonite Xenon 2 mobile office. Knock wood, I haven’t been stopped at the gate for my rolling briefcase.
The Samsonite Xenon 2 mobile office fits under most airline seats. It has a band across the back that slips over your luggage handle. This allows you to stack your luggage and makes it easier to manage all of your baggage. The biggest boon is the room. It fits my 15-inch MBP laptop, iPad, noise-canceling headphones, iPod, power cords, HDMI cable, notes, wallet, a magazine and more. It’s awesome.
If your writer travels at all or has back/joint issues, this little rolling wonder may be just the perfect gift.
My sweet friend Jenny Stempel gave me a stationery cabinet from Papyrus. What a great gift! I love having these thank-you cards at the ready. There are so many occasions when writers need thank-you notes – after meetings, lunches, dinners, etc. Whenever I need to send a quick note, all I have to do is open my stationery cabinet and grab a beautiful card with its matching envelope. I jot the thank-you note and pop it in the mail. These cards even come with fancy envelope sealers! I have received so many compliments on these cards. What can I say? Jenny has good taste.
Here’s a link to the papyrus.com stationary cabinet page.
Outliers and David and Goliath
While mentoring young writers this year, I’ve found myself going back to Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling books Outliers and David and Goliath. In Outliers, Gladwell looks at why some people succeed in life and others never reach their potential. The idea of discipline and deliberate practice speaks to me. Writing is an iterative process. We get better the more we push ourselves to write, analyze our writing, and rewrite in a constructive manner. It’s this focus on improvement and the constant pushing that leads to breakthroughs in our writing.
In David and Goliath, Gladwell examines underdogs as well as battles with seemingly impossible odds. Breaking into Hollywood can seem like a David and Goliath story. A young, talented writer wants to make it in one of the most competitive businesses in the world. Only a few become successfully employed. Why do these few succeed while many others fail? What has happened in their lives to make them so determined?
I can attest it’s not lack of talent. I’ve known many talented writers who never book a gig in Hollywood. Gladwell suggests a commonality that is quite surprising. I don’t want to spoil Gladwell’s insights, but if your writer wants to make it big in the entertainment business, I highly recommend both of these books.
Sit Ubu Sit: How I went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the same woman, the same dog, and a lot less hair
The late Gary David Goldberg created Family Ties, Spin City, and Brooklyn Bridge. In his lifetime, he won two Emmys, three Humanitas prizes, a PGA award, and four WGA awards. With all of his success, he maintained a healthy marriage, raised a family, and didn’t lose sight of the important aspects of life. His memoir – Sit Ubu Sit – is a humorous and poignant love letter to his wife, Diane, and to his friend, Michael J. Fox. Goldberg created two shows with Fox at the center. His memoir charts not only his own career, but also Fox’s. It also recounts the beginnings of Fox’s battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
Sit Ubu Sit is a touching read for writers who want to work in Hollywood and the people who love them.
Rebel Without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player
Writer-director-editor-composer Robert Rodriguez inspires young filmmakers with his book, Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7,000 became a Hollywood Player. His can-do, make-or-break attitude is infectious. Want to write a movie? Do it. Want to shoot a movie with no crew? Do it. Want to post your film, enter it into contests, and get courted by Hollywood? Do it!
Rodriguez found ingenious ways to pull off his award-winning low-budget action film El Mariachi. He even enrolled himself in pharmaceutical trials to help pay for the film. Now that’s dedication.
El Mariachi catapulted Rodriguez into the Hollywood studio system. It spawned two sequels, Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, both starring Antonio Banderas. Rodriguez went on to write, direct, and produce the successful Spy Kids and Sin City films, among others. He frequently collaborates with Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds). Both are maverick filmmakers with indie filmmaking roots.
Write. Publish. Repeat.
Does your writer want to make a living writing novels full-time? Put Write. Publish. Repeat. on your list. It’s written by two authors, Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt, who together have published more than 1.5 million words and created more than 15 independent franchises. They share their hard-won knowledge so others may live their dreams.
Write. Publish. Repeat. provides case-study information about what worked and what didn’t in the authors’ own indie publishing business. Platt and Truant discuss price points and marketing strategy. They give concrete advice backed by sound logic.
Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and David W. Wright also have a great podcast series about indie publishing. Here’s a link to their podcast website.
As I mentioned at the beginning, writers love coffee shops. We often write in coffee shops or meet friends to talk about writing over a hot drink. Spend a little or spend a lot – a gift card to your writer’s favorite coffee haunt will be appreciated.
Movie theater gift certificates
I love going to the movies. I love the communal experience of the movie theater. And I love seeing how audiences respond to films. What do they cheer for? When do they gasp? When do they tear up? Watching a film with an audience can give a writer valuable insights into the moments she needs to create in a screenplay to captivate audiences.
A gift certificate for a night at the movies can be a perfect way to support your favorite writer. And who knows, maybe your favorite writer will take you with her.
Review/note of encouragement
Here’s a way to support your favorite writer without spending a dime: Write a review. This review might be an Amazon review for a writer’s book. Or it could be a personal note of encouragement for your favorite writer. Composing your positive, supportive thoughts on paper may be the boost your favorite writer needs to get through a work-in-progress. Your writer may refer back to your words of encouragement during tough times. And trust me, all writers have tough times.
Writers and many other artists may have other people in their lives who discourage them from their dreams. These people often suggest that the writer should not quit his day job. They think the writer/artist is going through a phase.
Writers often have their own internal critic. This internal critic may be harsher than any external critic.
A well-deserved, positive review or note of encouragement may help a writer through his toughest time. And while a review or a note doesn’t cost much or anything, it can be priceless.
All good writing requires some research. Offer to help your favorite writer with her research. You might be able to pull together resources and focus the information on the writer’s specific interests. You could save your writer a lot of time by delivering the essentials he needs to write his scenes.
You might also be able to line up an expert who will talk with your writer on the phone or over email. Finding resources for your writer can enrich and inform his story. And while you’re researching, your writer can be writing.
Finding time to write is one of the biggest obstacles writers face. There never seems to be enough time to write. Writers need to sit at their computers and think. It may not look like we are doing anything. We may not produce pages and pages of writing every session, but every writing session is crucial to unlocking the secrets of our work-in-progress.
This year, give your writer the one thing he needs most – time. Offer to cut the grass, run errands, or fix meals so your writer can use the time he would normally spend doing these weekly chores on writing. You would be surprised how much writing can be done in just a week. And every moment spent writing and thinking moves the writer a step closer to finishing a major project.
Best gift of all
From an in-home coffee house to a note of encouragement, these are my picks for this year’s writers wish list. I hope you find the perfect gift for your someone special. I already know your writer has the best gift of all – you. You read this entire list searching for a way to support your writer. You rock.
So many writers have to go it alone, or worse, they struggle in this unforgiving, competitive endeavor with their friends and family actively discouraging them. Thank you for encouraging writers and artists to pursue their dreams.
I feel incredibly fortunate to get to do what I love for a living. I’ve been blessed with loved ones who have supported my dreams from the beginning. I thank you, dear reader, for supporting your writer. We need diverse voices in writing and entertainment. By encouraging your writer, you’re encouraging the future of entertainment. You are a patron of the arts. You and your support are the best gifts of all.
Have a wonderful holiday season and know that your support and encouragement are year-round gifts.