This Year’s Holiday Gift List For Writers


Hanukah starts in nine days; Christmas is two weeks away.  And so I thought it might be worthwhile to offer a few gift ideas for those of your shopping for a writer (even if that writer happens to be you!)  It’s been a couple of years since we had one of these lists on the site, and while there may be some overlap with past lists, this one will be a bit more inclusive.

Software:  After Kalayna’s great post from Thursday, this seems like a good place to start.  Scrivener, which is a terrific program for writers that helps with organization, research, character sketches, and the actual writing of your book, started as a mac program but is now available for Windows as well.  Both versions can be purchased for under $50.00.  Nisus Writer Pro, which is my favorite word processing program, is still only available for mac users, and it’s a bit more pricey, though still under $100.00.   I can vouch personally for both Scrivener and Nisus Writer Pro.  Kalayna’s post lists other programs that might also be of interest to writers, including One Note and Ulysses.  I don’t know the prices of these other programs, but that information should be easy to find.

Subscriptions:  The gift that keeps giving.  A subscription to a print magazine or online journal can be a great gift for writer and reader alike.  A subscription to Writer’s Digest costs about $20.00.  Or maybe someone you know is more interested in Locus, the business journal of the SF/Fantasy field.  Year-long subscriptions to Locus start at $60.00. If your writer friend is more interested in reading literature than in reading about writing or business matters, you might consider susbscriptions to one or more of these genre-oriented ‘zines:  Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, or Azimov’s.

E-Readers:  Yeah, chances are you all know about these already.  The Kindle and Nook have both come way down in price and can now be had for under $100.00.  Sony e-book readers start at about the same price.

Books:  I don’t care how tech-savvy your writer friend might be.  In the end, writers still love to get books.  I know I do.  But which book to get.  Well, I can tell you that every person on this site has written and published at least one novel.  A collection of MW-authored novels might be a terrific gift for that MW fan on your list.  Or you could give someone a copy of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion.

Though I’m reluctant to admit it, there are other How-To-Write books out there as well, including Stephen King’s On Writing, Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Chris Roerden’s Don’t Sabotage Your Submission, and Donald Maass’s The Career Novelist.

Then there are the research books:  One set of books I’ve mentioned before is actually published by Writer’s Digest Books under the heading “The Howdunit Series.”  These books are geared toward writers of contemporary mysteries, but I use them all the time in writing fantasy.  Among the titles:  Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to PoisonsScene of the Crime: A Writer’s Guide to Crime Scene InvestigationsCause of Death: A Writer’s Guide to Death, Murder, and Forensic Medicine; and Body Trauma: A Writer’s Guide to Wounds and Injuries.  Yes, they’re a bit gruesome, but they are written for writers by experts who are interested in helping you kill and maim your characters as realistically as possible.  Each title costs less than $20.00.

If you’re interested in books about magic, I can recommend another series of books, this one published by Llewellyn Publications of St Paul, MN.  The first three are written by Scott Cunningham.  Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs; Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem and Metal Magic; and Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews.  The fourth book, by Bill Whitcomb, is called The Magician’s Companion: A Practical and Encyclopedic Guide to Magical and Religious Symbolism.  The Cunningham books each cost less than $20.00; the Whitcomb book costs about $25.00.  Unlike the Howdunit books, these are not geared toward writers, but are actually written for people who are into  ritualistic and personal magic.  I would never judge a person for his or her beliefs: I just want you to understand what kind of books you might be buying.  That said, I’ve found all of these books helpful at one point or another, some in concrete ways, others simply as inspiration for my own magic systems.  Cunningham has also written other books on Wicca, earth power, and natural magic.

I can recommend as well a few books on demons and magical creatures:  Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns and Goblins, and Ghosts, Monsters and Dragons, both by Carol Rose; The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, by John and Caitlin Matthews; and The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.

If you’re interested in a book on healing herbs, I would recommend the beautiful Brother Cadfael’s Herb Garden by Rob Talbot and Robin Whiteman.  It is named for the lead character in the Ellis Peters mysteries and it is a coffee table book with beautiful photos and glossy pages.  But it is also filled with terrific information.  I would guess that it’s currently out of print, but you should be able to find used copies.

A few other books that I’ve mentioned before:  Ancient Inventions, by Peter Hames and Nick Thorpe (Ballantine, $20.00); Eyewitness to History, edited by John Carey (Avon, $15.00);  English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh (Writer’s Digest Books, $25.00).  It’s also good to remember that sometimes the obvious is the best gift.  Does your writer friend need a good dictionary?  The industry standard, often used by copyeditors, is Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, hardcover, unabridged).  Another industry recommended book is the Chicago Manual of Style, which can be helpful in preparing manuscripts, interpreting copyediting symbols, and making your own markings on an edited manuscript.  A good thesaurus is always helpful (I use and recommend Roget’s International Thesaurus, 6th edition) as is a comprehensive baby name book.

Music:  I won’t bother to recommend titles here — musical tastes are far too idiosyncratic.  But for those of us who do write to music, having new titles to listen to during the work day is more than helpful; it can be crucial and even downright inspiring.

Other Writing Stuff:  A few years ago, my wife gave me a beautiful leather-bound journal for my birthday.  It remains one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.  A small notebook can also be a nice gift.  I always want to have something of the sort with me so that I can jot down writing ideas as they occur to me.  A few years before my wife gave me the journal, one of her brothers gave me pencils and a HUGE pack of erasers for Christmas.  He meant it as a joke gift, and I thought it was hilarious.  But I also used them.  I’m not recommending that you get someone pencils and erasers, but a really nice pen might be a thoughtful gift, particularly for a writer who keeps a journal or writes out stories and chapters in long hand. 

So what’s on your wish list?  What kind of gifts are you considering for the writers in your life?

David B. Coe

19 comments to This Year’s Holiday Gift List For Writers

  • Well, for myself, I was wanting to get more time and energy, but I found out, barring batteries and watches, that they don’t sell those anywhere. 😉

  • I am hoping for a laptop this Christmas so I can write at home and away from my breaktime at work.

  • Daniel, I’d like the same, but yeah, I don’t know how to make it happen.

    Mark, that sounds like a great idea. I love my macbook pro!

  • Rhonda

    After receiving books several times that I wasn’t all that interested in and/or already had, I find I prefer bookstore gift cards. (Gift cards are considered kind of impersonal, but I’d rather a bookstore gift card than, say, a starbucks or walmart gift card; the former at least shows the giver has paid some attention to what I enjoy.)

    I’ve had the trauma howdunit book for years. It’s excellent. Some of the writing reference books I’ve picked up over the years aren’t so useful, unfortunately, and after reading them and discovering this, they sit unused. There are enough of those that I kind of soured on the whole concept of “how to” writing books for a few years.

  • Great list, David! I may have to refer some friends and family to it.

    I was suckered in by a commercial and put Dragon Naturally Speaking voice-to-text software on my wishlist, How useful will it be? Hard to say. Will it be fun to play with? You bet.

    Tell them Scott sent you and get a puzzled expression at no extra cost. [Puzzled expressions available while supplies last.]

  • Rhonda, bookstore gift cards are a great idea. And I have some reference books that I felt the same way about for years. But then all it takes to make that purchase worthwhile is one time when you’re looking for some tidbit of information only to find that the long-ignored book gathering dust on your shelf has JUST the info you need.

    Scott, thanks. I’ve heard good things about Dragon and have been curious to try it myself. Hope you enjoy it.

  • Great suggestions, David. How tactful of you not to simply hawk our books to all MW readers in need of gifts. You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. But then you knew that.

    On the subject of e-readers, it might be worth mentioning the newest member of the Kindle family, the Fire, which is well on its way to being a true tablet computer at a fraction of the cost ($199). It won’t do everything an ipad does, but it’s worth a look.

    Books and Angry Birds on the same device? Say no more.

  • Easier access to Angry Birds is not the way to get more writing work done. 🙂

  • Thanks, A.J. I thought about making a more crass appeal for our personal book sales, but then starting hearing in the back of my mind Boris Karloff’s voice talking about how the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes, and I decided against it. Yeah, the Fire sounds pretty sweet, though I’ll probably hold out for an iPad 2.

    And Mark, dear friend, I fear that you’re missing the point. Sure, we might get less work done, but it would be so cool! So who cares…? 😉

  • Well, I’d love to get an agent for Xmas, but really, that’s something I need to go out and get myself. Book store gift cards are one of the three things I’ve asked for (along with Academie Duello gift cards so I can finally buy my own sword, and decent whisky because as cliche as it is for a writer, it’s my drink of choice).

    The rest is all stuff I can’t ask for, like making the writing/reading/betareading time and taking care of myself so that I have the energy Daniel speaks of. And getting that agent, of course. 😉 But so far I’ve been blessed to get some very useful and positive feedback on my work, and that itself is a fantastic gift. An ego boost for Xmas? Sure! 😀

  • Laura, I absolutely should have included whiskey and wine on my list! [Slaps forehead.] Seriously — a perfect gift for many writers. As for the agent, I would love to leave one under your tree, but as you say, it doesn’t work that way. Glad you got the ego boost! That’s better than anything that can be bought and wrapped.

  • Razziecat

    I can personally vouch for the Cunningham books, especially the herb one, I use that a lot. I also love Donald Maass’s “The Fire in Fiction.” Very inspiring.

    Another suggestion would be a couple of good “baby name” books. These are great for naming your characters. My favorite is Lareina Rule’s “Name Your Baby.” I wore my first copy out and had to buy a new one. This book gives origins and variations of each name, which is very helpful when you’re trying to come up with something different or something in a language you’re not familiar with.

  • @ David – you can leave an agent under Laura’s tree… but you might end up in prison… 😉

    Time and quiet are on my list – checked at Walmart and Lowes, but they were out of stock.

  • Oh – and if anyone is in the market for a puppy, free to good home, I’ll have a half-dozen available the end of January! (like I said: time and quiet [sigh])

  • Well, Richard Kadrey’s latest Sandman Slim novel, Aloha From Hell, is on my list. As is Tim Powers’ Hide Me Among the Graves, but since that won’t be out until March, I have to wait.

  • Razz, when I first started writing, I went out and bought a baby name book at the local bookstore in our tiny little college town. Nancy and I didn’t have kids at the time, and because the town is so small, even my book purchase didn’t go unnoticed. Let’s just say that tongues were a’waggin’ for a little while….

    Lyn, good luck finding the time and quiet. As far as I can tell, they are as mythical as unicorns and gryphons. And yes, I suppose I could put an agent under Laura’s tree. First I have to trap one, though. Oh, Lucienne! I have some chocolate here….

    Those sound good, Misty. I have a couple of “to read” items on my list, too.

  • ajp88

    One of the biggest reasons why I actually completed NaNoWriMo this year? Found out that upon completion, Scrivener (one of their sponsors) gives you a code for half off their processor! No more ticking time bomb of trial days for me, hard earned Christmas gift of a fantastic writing utility for $25 instead.

    I’m also asking for chocolate dipped espresso beans or even just coffee gift cards to “fuel the magic.”

  • I’d like my own Macbook, so I could keep all my personal stuff off my work laptop. I’d like a subscription to the International Medieval Bibliography (only several thousand dollars!) Or a box of Vosges chocolate – that would be lovely too.

    I would very much like to never receive stationery again. Ever. I have more boxes of lovely cards and pink edged paper with matching envelopes than I can count and I never, ever write hard copy letters by hand. I’ve been typing everything since I was 12. It took me years to figure out that this is my family’s idea of a good gift for a writer.

  • […] At the risk of being accused of sheer laziness (which would be a fair accusation), I’m posting a link to another writer’s blog.  David B. Coe over at Magical Words wrote This Year’s Holiday Gift List for Writers. […]