25 books, tools and trinkets for the writers in your life (and maybe you too).
Here’s my first pass at a gift guide, with an emphasis on practical books, everyday tools, and delightful objects of questionable utility.
Corrections and suggestions welcome. Last updated December 2019.
Becoming a Writer
Published in 1935 and out of print for decades, Brande’s book lives up to its title. Although some of the language and references are dated, this remains an invaluable guide to accepting yourself as an artist and building your own writing practice.
Writing Alone and With Others
Quiet your inner critics and get your ideas down on paper. Pat is the creator of the Amherst Writers & Artists method I use in my workshops. I’ve been referencing this book for a decade and still get new insights each time I flip through its pages.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
The 25th anniversary edition still resonates, delights, and makes you spit coffee out your nose. Lamott’s breezy writing gives you permission to make messes, to write for yourself and, ultimately, inspires you to make something beautiful.
Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process
Fassler runs the “By Heart” series over at The Atlantic, and this book collects a series of interviews with novelists about their inspiration, process and craft. Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, Roxane Gay and Neil Gaiman are among the featured writers in this very worthwhile collection.
3 AM Epiphany
Write about a time you were sad . . . Write about a time you were happy . . . What do you really want to be writing about? The internet is filled with uninspiring writing prompts. Kiteley goes in a different direction, with over 200 thought-provoking exercises to help you think, write and revise like never before.
Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction
What’s inside this oversized, full colour guide to speculative fiction? I have no idea. Just seeing it in my bookshelf makes me happy, but that’s as far as we’ve gotten to know each other. Includes sidebars and essays from writers including George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, and Karen Joy Fowler.
Ben McNally Books
Gift service | 416-361-0032
Toronto’s most beautiful bookstore, and still one its best kept secrets. Let Ben & his staff help you find the perfect title, or sign someone up for a personalized book of the month club. (Ben’s store is a great supporter of local writers: I’ve held two events there and they couldn’t have been nicer).
A copyholder keeps journals and notebooks open to make transcribing easier, and gives at-a-glance access to important reference materials. This model folds up for easy travel, and is an incredibly helpful tool for anyone who writes or edits by hand.
15 minute timer
School of Life
Add a decorative helping hand to the writer’s desk with this elegant sand timer. Flip the stand and write, uninterrupted, until the sand runs out. A writing challenge that’s always ready to go (and never needs batteries).
Think your scenes are out of order? Instantly re-organize your notes by moving and reconnecting the pages of this magnetic hardbound notebook. Genius!
Chrome Bullet Space Pen
Unlike most pens that rely on boring ol’ gravity, space pens use a pressurized cartridge to force ink out at an even flow. This allows you to write at any angle, even upside down, or under water. A great pen to take where desks and flat surfaces are few and far between.
Durable, take anywhere journals for great ideas and inspired doodling. Choose from classic three-packs, limited edition designs or gift subscriptions. I can confirm with my own eyes that the Wilco memo books will love you, baby.
DIY Bookbinding Kit
This handmade kit contains all the tools & instructions any book lover will need to bind their own volume. Could possibly be addictive.
Muji stationery gift set
It’s hard not to lose an hour or two combing through all the pens & notebooks at Muji’s downtown store. They have colourful options for gel ink pens, cases & paper sets with individual pieces starting from less than a buck. A great place to assemble a custom basket of essentials.
I bend pages, highlight & leave notes in my books as much as the next writer. But then I often forget where they are. These handy arrow bookmarks clip over a page and point to any passage that strikes your fancy, without damaging the original text. Great stocking stuffer!
Erasable white board
I love doodling notes, particularly when working on longer pieces. But I don’t like keeping them on my computer and having to flip between windows. This 10-foot peel & stick white board gives writers a generous amount of space to plot & plan. (getting a good set of erasable markers really helps).
Do not disturb sign
For those writers fortunate enough to have their own space, this do not disturb door hanger spells it out: I’m writing, I swear in hard maple or walnut wood.
Digital tools & gear
Online classes taught by the world’s best. There’s lots of options by writers, including Margaret Atwood, Carol Joyce Oates, Neil Gaiman and Malcolm Gladwell. I found the Davids (Mamet & Lynch) to be particularly rewarding.
Literature & Latte
Scrivener won’t tell you how to write—it simply provides everything you need to get started, stay organized and keep going. An essential software tool for anyone interested in long-form writing. For MacOS, Windows and iOS.
Personalized music streaming service
Focus at Will
Brain food! Focus at Will offers music channels designed by scientists, musicologists, and producers that work with your particular brain type. The system tracks your usage and dynamically adapts in real time to fit your individual focus needs and make you superhuman. Headphones recommended.
Audio Technica M40x, at Amazon
Sitting down to write is half the battle. Blocking out the rest of the world comes next. There’s lots of great headphones out there. I use these because they fold up small and the extra long cable is great for pacing.
Sudio earphones are inspired by clean, elegant Swedish design. The TRE earphones I use are no longer available, but the Trettons come pretty close. The sound is great, and the wingtip-style tips stay secure and comfortable for long sessions.
Phone lock box
We all know what distractions phones can be. And still they end up in our hands, no matter how hard we promise just to focus on writing. Remove the distraction by putting your phone in a time-locked box until your work for the day is done.
Mindset Brain Gym
Sometimes the best thing a writer can do is take a break from it all. Gift them a pass or experience at Mindset, a brain gym at Bay & Bloor. Solo, group & workshop sessions available per class or membership.
Private writing vault
If space for your favourite writer is at a premium, consider getting them a few hours away from it all. The Green Beanery coffee shop at Bathurst & Bloor rents out this private room starting from $15 an hour. It’s a decadent treat for one or more writers (and the coffee’s pretty good too).