Best and Worst Gifts for Writers

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The best response to a gift, ever, came from my brother as a kid. He and I had been making fun of the Marx Toys Popcorn game all year, calling it the stupidest thing every time we’d see its commercial on TV. 

When he opened the Christmas gift my aunt gave him, lo and behold – it was the Popcorn game. I guffawed. My brother didn’t. While I don’t remember if he cried or not, I do remember what he said:

“Wow. Great. Just what I never wanted.”

Those are my exact sentiments when I saw a few of the recommended gifts for writers peppered across the internet. To be fair, many are practical and useful. But a new box of Pilot retractable pens isn’t exactly high on the excitement list (even if they are bold-point gel rollerballs). OK, maybe they are.

But some of the other gift suggestions are just plain bad. Like the library-scented candle. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of tantalizing scents, particularly essential oils. The right aroma can be one of the most scrumptious ways to stay relaxed, focused and fueled with creativity.

But you need to be careful about how much and what combination of scents you use. Even if certain aromas seem like they’d be a good mix in theory, the reality could be a bit less, well, pleasant.

Just ask my beau. He’s the one who responded to my last ill-fated essential oil concoction with something like: “Why does it smell like cat piss in here?”

Even though the library-scented candle uses the French “Bibliotèque” in its name to make it sound fancy, there’s a chance the thing smells like musty old books at a garage sale. Or old newspapers in your grandpa’s once-flooded basement.

Speaking of grandfathers, the clothing recommended as writing gifts definitely has the flair of a dusty old professor. Yes, seasoned professors can be very cool – especially when talking Shakespeare or Romantic poets – but not all writers have the urge to dress like them.

Anything that resembles a sweater vest is out. Anything oversized and puke brown with a half-zipper is out. And please, oh please, do not buy us the bulky circus-tent-sized housecoat on the writer gift list at Cosmo.

Sure, they tried to jazz it up by calling it a “Homecoat,” jacking up the price to $295, and putting it on one of those newfangled models that look like they  haven’t slept in about six years. But deep down, it’s still a housecoat.

Other gift suggestions could go either way. Gifting a writer with a subscription to online writing lessons could be received warmly. Or the more sensitive type could take it as a slight that their writing stinks and needs to be improved.

The same reaction could apply to books or magazines that promise you’ll be writing like a pro in 30 days or less. “What, I’m not writing like a pro already?”

After all, you don’t go around giving your brother the doctor a subscription to online surgical lessons. Or a book that serves up “10 Ways to Improve Your Bedside Manner.” You saw what happened when he got that Popcorn game. Imagine how he’d react to the book or lessons.

If you want to get writers a good book, blank journals and sketchbooks are always welcome, especially if they’re leather oversize chakra journals with crystals encrusted on top. Markers and pens are cool. Those books and pads with writing prompts are always fun.

Warm socks and hand warmers are on the plus list, as are athleisure-type clothes that are comfy enough for napping but stylish enough not look like pajamas when you wear them to the store.

Food items are good, especially in the form of readymade meal subscriptions. And most writers I know would be thrilled to receive a year’s worth of coffee, tea or vitamin water, depending on their tastes.

Don’t forget the cozy faux fur throw for chilly nights at the computer, the under-desk elliptical machine to keep the energy flowing, and any crystals known for generating happiness, imagination and creativity. And if you can find anything that keeps sand out of the computer for writers who like to write at the beach, your gift will be absolutely golden.

Actually, any gifts you get your writer pals are likely to be received with graciousness and tact. We’ve learned to self-edit on the spot. Yes, that applies to the writerly lessons and the stinky candle. But maybe not so much for the homecoat.

Merry Christmas!

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