In last week's post about imposter syndrome, I mention my inability to write in the pretty notebooks and journals people have given me over the years out of a fear of ruining them by not being capable of writing anything good enough to be worthy of their pages.
This got me thinking. Notebooks are often a go-to gift when you have a writer to shop for because it's something they're likely to use. But if the writer on your holiday shopping list shares this fear of being unworthy of pretty notebooks, what should you get them?
We often hear about the writer's tool kit, but I think it's time we introduce the writer's care kit.
As the name implies, care packages are a great way to show someone you care.
When I was in college, one of the best feelings was getting an email from the campus mailroom alerting me to an unexpected package from my mom or another family member. Just a little something because they were thinking of me and wanted to send a little love across state lines.
Putting together a care package is also a great idea for the holiday season.
In this post, I'm sharing a rundown of suggestions for a writerly care package.
Even though I'm not listing this under the Opinion category, keep in mind that this post is inspired by what I would want to be given or could see myself including were I to put one together for someone else. If you decide to put together a care package of this nature, I invite you to use this list as a starting point and encourage you to tailor it to the person you are ultimately assembling it for.
Stationery State Of Mind
I can hear you now. Didn't you just say pretty notebooks weren't a good gift idea?
It depends on the writer. For some, notebooks can be a great option.
But if you're putting a writerly gift basket for someone who maybe doesn't do handwritten drafts or has a hard time breaking into a fancier journal than a black and white composition book they picked up at a dollar store, there are plenty of stationery alternatives out there.
If you're shopping for someone who prefers to write on looseleaf paper, you could get them a pretty binder to keep it all in.
Pens and pencils are great because there are so many options.
Between the various styles like felt tips, ballpoint, and fountain pens and ink colors, it's a small thing you can make personal—or even personalized! Be on the hunt for pens that are nods to your writer's favorite authors or media, like a chrome pen for a sci-fi writer or one that looks like Thor's hammer for a Marvel fan.
Some online shops will give you the option to personalize a set of pencils with a name or a short quotation limited to a set number of characters. Picking out a keyword from a favorite work of the writerly care kit recipient can be a nice way to go. If your writer is devout to their religious faith, having a Biblical citation printed on the side of personal significance to them or words of encouragement while pursuing their craft is another idea.
Use your writer's favorite things as inspiration. If you can tie it into one of their writing projects, go for it.
On a similar note, my Secret Santa at work last year gave me a quill and ink set complete with a wax seal kit (which was a bit ironic since I was using wax seals in my gift wrapping). It's a quirkier option, but as a historical romance writer, it was perfect for me and had me absolutely blown away.
I also had an art teacher in high school who gave me a pen made of wood as a graduation present, and you better believe I took that as a good luck charm to many college exams.
Don't limit yourself to writing implements when jotting down ideas.
A stand for their favorite pen or a holder that can accommodate several are also possible things to add to the list. And don't forget about pencil cases for writers on the go!
If your writer has a reputation for having a messy workspace, consider looking around for a desk organizer.
Mousepads are another item that can be easily personalized.
Flash drives can be a smart move if your writer friend forgets to back their work up. I've seen some that are incorporated into bracelets, strung on lanyards, or even kept in lockets. Of course, you don't have to give it any attachment, but that can make it easier to keep it from getting lost.
Paperclips come in an array of shapes and colors. Maybe your writer would get a kick out of holding their crappy first drafts together with poop emojis or would rather have something cuter like flowers or dachshunds.
If at the end of the day, you still want to give your writer a notebook, I'd suggest looking into refillable ones. Similar to the aforementioned binder, a refillable notebook can be easier to use without being afraid of ruining it since its pages aren't a permanent part of its body.
If your writer may be hesitant to use one of these and would rather stick to the tried-and-true bargain bin notebook but you still want them to have something pretty to work in, getting a stretchy fabric cover like those we'd use to protect and decorate our textbooks in high school might be the way to go.
A common addition to care packages is a tasty treat.
Comfort foods in a care package make them that much sweeter, so consider adding in some of your writer's favorite snacks.
When I'm working, I lean towards the salty and crunchy, but I won't turn down chocolate or shortbread.
There are a few directions you can take with this.
The obvious may be gathering a bunch of their favorites. Someone buying for me would definitely want to stock up on sea salt dark chocolate/caramel pairings and pretzels.
Alternatively, pick out a bunch of your go-tos to share, especially if they're things the recipient may not have tried before.
Or, better yet, go with something completely new to both giver and recipient! Get some snacks you've never heard of before. It could be because it looks interesting, has a cool name, the packaging is pretty, or simply for no reason at all.
Another option is getting multiples of the snacks you're buying so you and your writer can try them together. Since we're looking at a socially-distanced Christmas in 2020, being able to set up a Zoom call with a friend and diving into bags of strange chip flavors can be a fun way to spend an afternoon (though I'd consider this post-pandemic for long-distance friends and family, too). Who doesn't love a mini mukbang?
Inside jokes are often a source of inspiration for my gift-giving, and snacks are certainly one route it can take. Think back on your relationship with this person. What foods are rooted in your favorite memories of them?
If your writer is in the process of becoming more nutrition-minded, consider alternatives to their go-to junk foods. While there is nothing wrong with cheat days or allowing a little treat here and there, it is important to respect the changes someone is making to their lifestyle in order to live more healthily.
Thematic choices can be fun to work with. Maybe you get them a bunch of snacks in their favorite color or various things with the same basis, like a variety pack of popcorn flavors or a few different items that are all mint-flavored.
Depending on your writer, snacks can also be a way to tie into your writer's current project.
Say you're assembling a care kit for someone writing a contemporary romance set in Germany, you could look into snacks popular in that region like Erdnuss Flips or Lorenz NicNacs, or candy you might find in your local stores but in obscure flavors not sold neck of the woods.
Thanks to the internet, it's easier than ever to get your hands on international snacking goodness! In a day and age where we aren't able to travel nearly as much as many of us would like, the least we can do is let our tastebuds have a taste of globetrotting. *
* Just make sure that you're not breaking any rules or laws by importing the snacks. Kinder Surprise Eggs are renowned for not being legal in the United States due to the toy inside being deemed a choking hazard, which can lead to them getting confiscated. You'll find the FDA-abiding version called Kinder Joy on American shelves, but those aren't quite the same.
Drinks & Fixin's
Of the many writer stereotypes out there, some of the most common are the love of coffee or tea and hunkering down in a cafe with their drink of choice and their current project.
Use this for inspiration.
Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate have plenty of gift-giving potential.
Cocoa is especially popular this time of year, with popular flavors like peppermint and salted caramel in season.
Many online shops feature specialty blends inspired by places and pop culture, as well as a few with ingredients selected to improve one's energy or to relax. Tea also comes in an array of varieties like herbal or fruity, so it can be easy to find something your care kit recipient will enjoy.
Coffee also comes in a number of flavors and roasts, like French vanilla, hazelnut, and even Kahlua.
For an additional splash of fun, consider adding in flavored honey, powders, or syrups.
Along with these, why not add in a mug?
Whether it's simple or novelty in design, a mug can be the thing that brings it together and something your writer can use even after the last drop of coffee. Plus you can also use a mug to hold a bag of grounds or hot chocolate mix and wrap them together. Presentation is key!
If you're looking to get daring, check out some interesting soda flavors. A while back, there was a trend going around YouTube where content creators would venture out and try some more experimental sodas.
My personal recommendation with these (and snacks) is to avoid getting too weird unless you can confidently say the recipient would be up for it. I for one don't know how I would feel about getting a bottle of soda tasting like ranch dressing, pickle juice, or grass (yes, these are all real things you can buy).
Wine and other alcoholic beverages are also popular gift options between host and hostess gifts at holiday parties, a route people will go when they want to give something a little more on the fancy side be it the price or an interesting label, something with infinite flavors to pick from, and often a fail-safe because even if someone doesn't like wine, they might like a case of beer. It can also a way of supporting local business by purchasing from a brewery or vineyard in your region.
We all know that famous line from Hemmingway, "Write drunk, edit sober."
However, keep in mind that alcoholic beverages are not suitable gifts for everyone. Some people may not be comfortable receiving them or having them in the house, so please be respectful of that because it can be about more than simply not liking the taste.
I feel that I would also be remiss if I didn't issue a discretion regarding the legal drinking age. If you're buying for someone under the age of twenty-one here in the States, maybe reconsider unless you know it's something their parent or guardian would be okay with.
While I did have a cousin get me a bottle of Writer's Block wine as a Christmas gift when I was still twenty and therefore under the legal drinking age, my mother didn't have a problem with it, but this won't be the same for everyone.
Another popular route for gift-giving is DIYs.
One thing I've seen going around is mason jars filled with the dry ingredients needed for baking recipes like a batch of cookies or a pound cake. The trend involves layering the supplies like flour, sugar, and baking powder according to the recipe, so all the recipient has to do is dump them into a bowl, add wet ingredients indicated by the attached recipe printed on the tag, and bake.
I've also seen this done with hot chocolate mix and marshmallows.
It doesn't have to stop at baking, either.
If you're giving to someone who considers themselves to be more of a chef than a baker, preparing a jar with the spices and herbs for an entrée can also work. These are especially great for people with a lot on their metaphorical plate and therefore don't always have the time to make things for their dinner plate. Having everything already measured out and ready to go can be a huge timesaver.
As is the case with the snack suggestions, linking these inclusions to the recipient's writing can be fun. Maybe your writer mentions a scene where characters are seen eating snickerdoodles, so you find a recipe and supply the dry ingredients or gather what they need to make a treat from the time period their story is set in if they write historical fiction.
Like the international snacking idea above, it might be a fun idea to see about ordering some spices for recipes relevant to your writer's project. If their latest work is set in India, check out what they would need to stir up their own homemade tikka masala.
Being able to go make the recipes yourself and taste what your characters eat is one of my favorite ways to step deeper into the story and immersed in the details.
It's like research, but tastier!
A Quick Word Of Advice
Before including snack or drink items, if possible, make sure they are things the recipient can have without worry. This includes allergies, dietary restrictions, or avoiding certain ingredients for moral or religious reasons.
If your writer's care kit is going to someone who does not eat pork, for example, it may be wise to avoid gummy candies as pork is often used in making gelatin.
Including an additional bit of kindness by taking these concerns into account can go a long way!
Another frequent addition in a care package is self-care items.
Writers can be known for burying themselves in their work and not taking time to care for themselves. Encourage them to show the kind of care for themselves that they have for their characters.
Skincare items, lotions, and bath bombs are easy to find and great to include.
Candles not only enhance the atmosphere or illuminate the space, but are often the go-to source for aromatherapy. Lavender has a reputation for being calming, while lemon is said to improve one's mood.
You can also your writer's favorite scents for inspiration as well as those reminiscent of their writing (which I wrote more about here).
For the writer who's squeezing their storytelling in between a day job and other obligations in life, looking to get better at carving out a specific time to work on their project or getting into the habit of working without distractions, consider options that allow them to multitask, like face masks. This gives them the ability to say, "For the next twenty minutes while this mask does its thing, I'm going to do my thing and focus on writing."
Manicure kits, nail polish, and lip balms are also fitting.
DIY IOU Coupons
Even though I don't recall doing this myself, I do remember some classrooms in my elementary school devoting an arts & crafts session to making a set of coupons to give as a present to their caregivers along with the traditional card for the holidays.
Essentially, they "entitle" the recipient to redeem them for things. With kids, this is often things like "One Free Hug" or "[Child] Takes Out The Trash."
I personally think this is such a cute idea and something that can be easily translated to adulthood—and tailored to your writer's life.
Life is stressful. While we can't always make the bigger problems go away, but offering to pitch in and help alleviate smaller ones can be a huge gesture.
Think about things your writer has mentioned needing to get done but has had to postpone because of other obligations. Maybe they've talked about needing to Marie Kondo their wardrobe and sort through things they don't wear anymore but haven't been able to dedicate the time to it. Volunteering to help out with this sort of task can not only make it go faster but make it more fun (and having someone to talk you out of keeping that dress you bought on sale three years ago and haven't worn at all in that time is an added benefit).
Alternatively, think of little favors you can do for them. If you're known for your baking skills, a "One Free Pie" coupon may be a nice addition to the set.
My main advice with this is to be sensible and reasonable, making sure these things can actually be achieved. Don't include a coupon for something like "One Free Road Trip" sounds fantastic but may not be practical. The last thing you'd want is to let the coupon recipient down or leave them feeling disappointed because you couldn't make good on your offer.
Keep it simple. Play it safe.
If there is one thing writers can use more of, it's moral support.
One gift I love is a collection of little notes to a loved one.
I've seen a few variations of this going around, often for long-distance relationships, newlyweds, and college kids. The idea is to write a bunch of notes reserved for special and specific occasions. Each is sealed in an envelope, and the set is boxed up. The messages might be identified as "Open when we have our first fight" or "Open before your first midterm exam."
Like many things on the list, this can be personalized for your writer and geared towards the various phases of writing a book like "Open when you finish writing the last chapter" or "Open when the editing is overwhelming."
Writing is a marathon—and an arduous one at that. While there are so many things to love about it, some days are tougher than others. Giving your writer a dose of encouragement to turn to after receiving harsh comments from a beta reader or to celebrate a milestone like sending out their first query letter is a great way to let them know you're there for them, especially if they're like me and struggle to open up about how they're feeling.
As evidenced by my post about reading New Moon for the first time, I am an absolute sucker for scenes in which a character curates a cassette tape/CD/playlist for a loved one. It's just so personal and thoughtful that it's hard not to love, so I naturally had to include it on this list.
Putting together a playlist is one of the sweetest things to me, and something I've done a few times for people over the years.
Believe it or not, there is a lot of thought that can go into this.
I recommend starting off with songs that remind you of your writer, including their favorite bands or things that fit their aesthetic.
As with many ideas on this list, don't be afraid to incorporate your writer's projects. Explore options like traditional folk songs from their story's setting or thematic tones, like love ballads for a romance writer.
Playlists are also great for reminiscing. Including songs connected to specific moments in your friendship and inside jokes can add a new layer of depth to it, especially if it's something they may have forgotten about.
Along with this, why not listen to it together (even if it's in a sociallly-distanced fashion)?
I have to give credit where due. This idea was actually inspired by 5 Seconds of Summer, who hosted a virtual listening party when their album CALM released earlier this year. The band invited their fans to stream the album starting at 12:05 AM EST so they could listen to it "together" after having to postpone their 2020 tour dates. In addition, listeners were encouraged to set aside a space to just chill and either dress up as they would when attending one of the band's shows or instead opt for their comfiest sweatpants. The point was to instill a feeling of togetherness, especially early on in this mess of a year when social-distancing was still new and unsettling.
CALM is a great album, and this virtual listening party and made for a memorable experience.
Finding a way to listen to the playlist you create for a loved one can make it all the more special to both of you.
This time of year, many people strive to do good and spread love. I know a few people who would rather contribute to a fundraiser than use that money to buy a non-essential item, and some who would rather have someone do so on their behalf instead of unwrapping a box.
Making a donation to a worthy cause on behalf of a loved one is a great option for gift giving.
Consider what values are most important to the person in mind. Whether they're an animal lover, are always looking for ways to go green and reduce their carbon footprint, support the arts, education, or medical research, or advocating for women's rights or the LBGTQ community, everyone has something they're passionate about and things they wish they could improve to make the world a better place.
I advise you to research a few groups before selecting one. Most will have a website set up talking about their mission and history, and stories about the work they do. Having this information on hand can also make the gift more significant to the person you're making it on behalf of. Being able to read about the impact the donation has, like being able to buy books for a classroom library or the work a wildlife reserve does to protect endangered species, can make it more meaningful to receive because it becomes more than a receipt.
If you know that this person frequently gives to a particular group or does volunteer work within the community, that can be a great place to start.
Some fundraisers will have an additional perk for those who make a contribution, like their name listed in the Friends Of The Foundation section of their newsletter, a one-day free pass to the museum if they're running a campaign, or a thank you card signed by someone the program helps. If you receive one of these, make sure to pass it on to the person you've made the donation in honor of.
I actually "own" a square-foot of the Dunnans Castle grounds in Scotland and can technically call myself a Lady of Chaol Ghleann after a donation my mother made on my behalf last Christmas. It's not an official title, of course, but it is an interesting thing to bring up when you have to share a fun fact about yourself.
One last note on this is that making a donation is also a way of showing kindness to someone who may be experiencing a difficult time, like the loss of a loved one.
If someone you know is mourning a family member or friend, making a donation in their honor can also be a meaningful gesture.
If someone's recently deceased grandmother lost their battle to cancer, making a donation to an organization devoted to research and finding a cure may be a nice idea.
These are only a handful of suggestions for putting together a writerly care kit. There is an infinitum of things to add—as many options as there are writers. Care packages can be truly unique and memorable for both giver and recipient. One of my favorite parts about holiday shopping is that thrill when you find the perfect gift for someone, and care packages give you the chance to put several perfect gifts in one.
This holiday season, I'll be doing a lot of my holiday shopping through avenues like Etsy to support smaller businesses and independent entrepreneurs. It's always a great option to consider, especially in unprecedented times such as these.
If you do venture out to brick and mortar locations during the 2020 holiday season, please wear a mask. It's not just for your safety, but for the safety of those around you.