Money may be tight, but there’s still a lot you can do for the writer in the family. Use these ideas to supplement the main holiday gift, or make the entire season an esteem-boosting dream come true for your favorite author-in-residence.
Make a space. If your writer has been balancing the laptop on unstable knees while perched on the couch or waiting after dinner to steal a little tabletop real estate, make some room for a desk. Rearrange the furniture and create an area just for your wordsmith. No cash required, just a little ingenuity. Erma Bombeck wrote her columns on a door balanced on cinder blocks. Make it yourself if you have some spare lumber and know your way around a hammer. If you don’t have anything suitable, check Freecycle.org or a local free-and-trade Facebook group. Who cares if it’s particleboard? It will be a little slice of Heaven for someone with a vivid imagination. Like a writer. Extra points if you can round up a few office supplies too, like a mug from the kitchen to hold a few pens or a couple of file folders from the dollar store.
Help with research. Go the traditional handmade coupon route with redeemable certificates for an hour’s worth of web engine searches, or, if you know what kind of material your writer needs, clip or print articles and interesting tidbits year-round and give them occasionally in a brightly decorated folder. Extra points for rounding out a coupon book with an afternoon of child care when deadlines threaten, a few mandatory days off, a walk in the park when the plot is stuck or (if said writer is your sweetie) a sexy coupon good for a little afternoon delight. After all, everyone needs a good Googling now and again (bow-chicka-wow-wow!)
Ask to read some work. Then read it. Take your time. If he or she wants a critique, fine. Find one good thing for every bit that needs attention. Writers work in solitude, and they always end up asking people to read their stories, articles, poems and posts. Sometimes they feel awkward about it. If you volunteer to read for them, it’s like showering them with sunshine. Your attention and interest in a writer’s scribblings will make his or her day complete. Extra points for family members: collect your writer’s clips after they are published. A scrapbook made up of articles or stories not only show how far a writer has progressed, it demonstrates that you care. What better gift is there, really?
Make a goalbook or planner. No matter what the genre, writers live and die by the deadline. Make 2016 easier by creating a planner to keep your writer organized. (Hint: if you have kids, this is a great family activity.)
Dig up a 3-ring binder, a hole-punch and some card stock or construction paper for dividers. Print out a calendar for each month or go all the way and print out every week. (Microsoft Publisher will print calendars, and there are tons of free, personal-use calendars on the Net.) Also print out several blank pages with headings like “Goals”, “To-Do” and “Ideas”. Make sure each month has plenty of space to scribble notes, and separate each monthly section with the card stock. Include quotes from his or her favorite authors or other motivational sayings. Decorate accordingly. Just takes a couple of hours and some creativity to make your writer weep like a reality show contestant.
Download some e-books. I have a lot of friends who are e-book authors, so let me put this out there: if you can buy an e-book or two (many cost less than three bucks) then please do so. If that’s out of the budget, welcome to the world of free e-books. Project Gutenberg has always been my go-to for great, zero-cash reads because you can find so many irresistible and esoteric books besides the classics everyone claims they read in school. Feedbooks and Smashwords are also great resources, and the University of Chicago Press offers an occasional free e-book through their newsletter. Open Culture and the Internet Archive is another slam-dunk for reading material, including manga and comic books.
Don’t have a smartphone, e-reader or tablet? No worries. You can download books in a variety of formats at Gutenberg and make a file folder on the computer for your giftee. Amazon, Kobo and B&N also offer freebies if you have their particular reader software. Remember, stay legit with your downloading, because good karma is the gift that keeps on giving.
Throw an office party. Working from home is wonderful, because the dress code runs from casual (Scooby Doo PJs) to extra summer casual (powdering their butt so they don’t stick to the chair). There is one thing writers miss out on, though, and that is the office party. Throw a tiny shindig by your writer’s desk. Bake some cookies, put up a few decorations. Let your writer talk all he or she wants about work: editors, publishers, magazines, etc., and don’t tune it out. Invite a couple of friends or family members over if you want, but it’s more fun when it’s intimate. Keeping it to yourselves also avoids those nasty “crazy people” rumors, too. You’ll be surprised how much it will perk up a writer’s spirits just to talk, laugh and have their own little holiday ritual.