When you see those top ten gift lists for writers around this time of year, they often include six or seven journals (usually with butterflies and/or inspirational quotes), a “don’t bother me I’m writing” mug and a couple of “I’ll put you in my book,” shirts. (Note: Unless you’re looking at Chuck Wendig’s list, which does have some good suggestions for writers, namely: Caffeine, a gift card to an office supply store, and no more blank notebooks ever).

While those are valid and interesting gifts, they’re not that USEFUL for writers. Most of us have our favorite journals (this is mine) and we’ve bought a ton of them, just in case the company someday goes out of business or the world ends and we won’t be able to find them anymore. Ditto with mugs (write like a motherfucker) and shirts (write.).

So here is my list of the six best gifts you can give Yourself the Writer or Your Friend the Writer this holiday season:

  1. PREY: Theft Protection 
    Prey is a fantastic free open-source software program that lets you keep track of your computer if it’s stolen or missing. It tracks your computer via GPS, takes a photo of the thief who uses your laptop, locks your computer down AND allows you to take remote screenshots to help you identify what the thief’s email is. It’s easy to install. Makes sure your writing is safe and secure.
  2. SCRIVENER: Better than Word
    Download the free trial of Scrivener for your Mac or PC, try it out. If you like it, it’s just $45 and you may never use Word again. It has a lot of bells and whistles, but you don’t need to use all (or any) of them. I’ve talked a lot about how I used Scrivener to write and organize books, and many writers I know swear by this program for productivity, organization and creative joy.
  3. A BACKUP PROGRAM: I Don’t Care Which One
    Try Dropbox or SugarSync or any of the others out there. Make it so it backs up your writing automatically. I use both Dropbox and SugarSync, because I am anal and because I have a lot of stuff to back up.
    If you are skilled in doing this kind of set up, give the gift of doing this for one of your less tech-savvy writer friends. They will love you forever.
    Okay, this doesn’t mean go back and organize the last 20 years of writing. That’s a time killer and a procrastination tool. Look forward instead. Make sure you have a way of labeling your documents (mine is: Title-Date, and I change the date on each version so I can sort them easily) and then have a good way of storing those labeled documents (I have BUSINESS and WRITING folders. BUSINESS has folders labeled 2012 Contracts, 2012 Receipts, etc., while WRITING has folders labeled by genre, so I can easily find stories. Inside each genre are folders labeled WORKINGON, SUBMITTED, ACCEPTED and NEEDSNEWHOME). Starting now, put every document where it belongs.
    Additionally, set up a submission tracker if you don’t have one. Starting today, put every submission in that tracker. This is what mine looks like:
    Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 2.25.49 PM
  5. BUY YOURSELF SOME TIME With a Professional
    Invest in a class, some one-on-one feedback or a professional editor. If you don’t have the money for this, set up a gift exchange with someone whose work you know and admire. I trade my work regularly with other writers; we read each other’s writing and provide feedback. Set this up for yourself — it’s a fantastic gift to you and to the writer you exchange with.
    Have kids? Have a full-time job? Have a million things to do and no time? Invest in your writing time. Buy yourself a coffee gift card to your favorite shop and go there to write. Add one hour to the babysitter’s time. Hire someone to clean the house. Again, if you don’t have the money, do a trade. Friends of writers: Yes, this one. Offer to do something for them (watch kids, get groceries, do laundry etc. etc.) so they can write.

Bonus Gift Ideas: If you want to go fun instead of useful (or fun AND useful), here are a few ideas for unique gifts: A signed copy of your new book to another writer (inspiration); Aquanotes (for notes in the shower); Cute word tights (okay, yeah, so maybe it’s just me that wants these); Nice words or a thank you card (means SO much).

What’s the best writer-like gift you’ve ever given or gotten? What do you wish someone would give you?

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.