Last week, I bought myself a writerly present, which reminded me that the holidays are coming up fast and furious.
Therefore, I thought I’d list several great gift ideas for writers. I’ve chosen items that range in price from cheap to moderate (I’m not going to recommend a $30 candle or a $94 “vegetarian leather” journal – even though it comes with free shipping); and from super-writerly to auxiliary writerly.
I know you’ll find something that you can either purchase for yourself or give a subtle hint about (“Look what I found on Amazon; I’d love to have this!”)
Now to the gifts. I’ve tried to choose products that have the “Amazon’s Choice” banner, which indicates items highly recommended for quality. (Please note that I might receive a small fee from Amazon if you buy them with the link I’ve provided – at absolutely no extra cost to you.)
I’m featuring only Moleskine products in this category, as it’s hands down the best product on the market for writers and other creatives. There’s nothing like the feel of a brand new, empty Moleskine notebook or diary that you can fill with story ideas, random thoughts, sketches, and your daily schedule. Make sure you buy yourself a special pen to go with these.
Notebooks and journals
Moleskine Classic Notebook, large
Moleskine Classic Notebook, pocket
Moleskine Cahier Journal, large (Set of 3)
Moleskine Cahier Journal, pocket (set of 3)
For all 4 of these products, you can choose paper (dotted, plain, ruled, or square) and color (too numerous to name). They start at around $7.00 for the pocket and around $10.00 for the large, but each type of paper and each color are priced differently.
Moleskine diaries are my favorite. One side of the page is the calendar, and they’ve kept the facing page blank for jotting daily or weekly schedules, notes, ideas, etc. In 2016, I bought the large; for 2020, I’ve chosen the pocket. As with the notebooks and journals, prices depend on format and color.
Moleskine Classic 12-Month 2020 Planner, hard cover
Moleskine Classic 12-Month 2020 Planner, soft cover
With each link, you can tailor your choice to large or pocket size, daily or weekly format, and color.
If you’ve read my posts for any amount of time, you’ll know that I love my Kindle. It’s great for travel (bus, train, plane, etc.), and many times you can find digital books cheaper than the print edition. Here are some options.
Kindle: $64.99–104.99, with 25% discount for trade-in.
Kindle for Kids: For the budding reader or writer in your life. Comes in a variety of cute designs. $84.99.
Kindle Unlimited: This is a subscription service. You get access to over 1 million books. $10.00 per month; first month free. Deal for December 2019: $.99 for 3 months instead of first month free.
Books for writers
Although buying books for writers seems a bit obvious, we often neglect to give ourselves the tools that will make us better at our craft. I’ve divided the myriad options into books on writing and reference books.
Books on writing
The following 3 books are the ones I recommend most emphatically. All three deliver first-rate writing advice, are an interesting and fascinating read, and combine both humor and pathos. They are truly unforgettable.
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamont
On Writing, by Stephen King
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Nonfiction, by William Zinsser
Recommended by others
The following books are either known to be superb or had great reviews.
Writing about Your Life: A Journey into the Past, by William Zinsser
Another classic from Zinsser. He teaches you how to write a memoir by writing his own and annotating it with technical advice and tips on how to write yours. I’ve read parts of it and I love it.
Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein
For many, Sol Stein is the last word on editing. Of course, I’m partial to an editor rather than an author writing a book on writing, because 1) he’s seen it all and therefore knows what works, and 2) he’s more objective. The book got mostly 5-star reviews, but one very insightful 1-star review claimed that Stein gives warmed-over, hackneyed advice to writers, which contributes to a basic sameness in much of fiction today. This makes me want to read the book even more, to see if I agree with the reviewer.
The Writing of Fiction, by Edith Wharton
Short and succinct, Pulitzer Prize-winning Wharton’s advice is timeless.
Aspects of the Novel, by E. M. Forster
This book was originally a series of lectures Forster (of Passage to India fame) gave in 1927 at Trinity College, Cambridge. Comprises intelligent British wit. He cites numerous examples of classic literature to back up and reinforce his points. Some reviewers felt the language was outdated, but that doesn’t bother me. I like Forster’s writing, although I did not enjoy reading him in high school.
Dictionaries and Style Guides
I don’t care how attached you are to the Merriam-Webster online edition; every writer must have a physical dictionary at hand.
For all you lovers of British English, this is the one to get.
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White
I’ve been hounding my readers and clients to buy this for years. Total classic; the first word in writing well. Required reading for anyone who owns a computer or a pad and pen.
Another mandatory reference book. It costs $43, but a yearly subscription to The Chicago Manual of Style Online is $39 (you get a 30-day free trial), so the book is the better deal in the long run. The 17th edition will take you well into the next decade. I personally love using the physical edition. I’ve marked with Post-Its the most common questions I have and the chapters I refer to the most.
Garner’s Modern English Usage, 4th edition, by Bryan A. Garner
As the Amazon blurb says, “Garner explains the nuances of grammar and vocabulary with thoroughness, finesse, and wit. He discourages whatever is slovenly, pretentious, or pedantic.”
Garner is so well-respected in the field that he has his own, 80-page chapter in the most recent edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (see above for link to Chicago).
Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, by H. W. Fowler and R. W. Burchfield
Many of you are familiar with the esteem in which I hold my buddy Fowler. As the book jacket says, it is a “compilation of learning, wit, humour and good taste.” In other words, it’s a hoot. He’s got information in there that I have never found elsewhere, and I refer to him on a regular basis.
Pro tip: Get the print version. The Kindle version got terrible reviews. Readers said that it was unreadable, the file was corrupted, there were OCR errors, etc.
The following are great companion pieces for a writer (or reader).
Scrivener is a well-known software package that helps you not only write your books and articles, but keep everything organized. It’s got a lot of amazing features. It has a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, you won’t know how you lived (and wrote) without it. For those who self-publish, you can go from manuscript to ebook almost with a push of a button.
Scrivener costs between $45 and $49, depending on your operating system, and they offer educational licenses at a 15-percent discount. You can also try it free for 30 days.
I can attest that a reading pillow is a great aid to comfortable and enjoyable reading.
A nice tushy pillow for $16. Recommended for sciatica and back pain relief.
This product seems to do everything except do the dishes, and it’s less than $23. I want one, too.
What more can a writer want than to relax after a hard day at the computer with a favorite book, a reading pillow, and a plate of yummy treats?
Bulletproof Coffee: This really is a thing. I haven’t tasted it, but how could I leave it out, considering the name?
Last but not least…
Here are 2 more options for your gift-receiving pleasure.
Cop out with this perennial favorite. A great way to enable your spouse’s laziness (“But I didn’t know what to buy you!” “I ran out of time!”)
I offer author mentoring (as well as full editing and proofreading services). There are 3 packages to choose from, and I’m always willing to design a custom program for you. Check out all the options here.
There you have it – the 2020 Writers’ Gift-Giving Guide. I hope you will find things to buy for yourself or for others – but I most sincerely hope you will be able to send this list to your loved ones and finally get what you really want for Xmas, Hanukkah, your birthday, or any other special day.
Happy giving and receiving!
I don’t know about you, but I find it a bit off-putting when I see the term one overused in literature and conversation:
One could choose from soles of leather, resin…and, one hoped, eco-friendly in origin…although why one would purchase tap shoes without taps didn’t make such sense.
Like, when are you going to put a real pronoun in?
On the other hand, perhaps one is talking about the human race and not about a specific person. What’s one to do then?
In light of a query from one of my subscribers about using one in a sentence, and I decided to expand on it here.
Here are some questions that come up with the one issue:
- When do we use one, and for what type of prose?
- What are some alternatives to one?
- Can one mix and match pronouns in the same sentence or paragraph?
We’ll go over these one (!) by one. But first, a short overview.
The pronoun one: an overview
The pronoun one is called a generic pronoun, a gender-neutral pronoun, an indefinite pronoun, and an impersonal pronoun. Take your pick.
It is often used in place of you, and sometimes it’s even used in place of I (see below). Many grammar pundits consider one to be more formal, nay, haughty.
Writers who are sensitive to gender issues use the pronoun one in order to avoid employing the male pronoun, i.e., he. Although you can be used as a gender-neutral pronoun as well, one seems to get the job done better when one wants a bit of distance between one and one’s readers, or when one is making an important point:
- A flight cancellation can really ruin one’s day.
- One must never give up.
Using the pronoun one
Many British authors use one extensively, even in casual conversation and even in contemporary fiction. Very often, the speaker uses it to refer to himself or herself (“the royal one“):
- It was just so difficult when one didn’t feel hunger.
- “One could tell from the first that it was only Missa he would ever care for.”
- “It’s beaten into one from childbirth.”
American authors, however, use mainly I, you, or a noun such as “a person” or “people.”
One can also be used to express general human behavior:
- One uses a spoon and not one’s hands to eat ice cream.
- Excessive drinking can potentially put one into an awkward position.
- A nice compliment from the teacher makes one work harder.
As I said above, you will notice that these sentences put a bit of distance between the speaker/writer and the listener/reader.
When is one appropriate?
You’ll get a feel for when to use the indefinite pronoun, and when not. Formal vs. informal is one yardstick. For instance, if you are writing about Marie Antoinette, you might want to say, “One is not amused” or “Let one eat cake.” There is also the cultural issue, as I mentioned, with regard to some British authors.
The use of one also works for instruction manuals and other pedagogic prose:
- One should be sure to turn off the electricity before one changes a light bulb.
- One doesn’t use curse words at the Vatican.
- If one is insensitive to the dog, it is likely to bite.
- After one says the blessing, one permitted to partake of the meal.
Are there alternatives to one?
Yes, there are. Here are four, based on the above sentences:
- Substitute one one with a gerund: “One should be sure to turn off the electricity before changing a light bulb.”
- Substitute the pronoun clause with a command: “Do not use curse words at the Vatican.”
- Use the passive case (sparingly): “Insensitive veterinarians will get bitten by their patients.”
- Use a different pronoun (and consider making the sentence less formal): “After you say the blessing, you can eat.”
Segueing into other pronouns
Sometimes, you can or must use more than one pronoun in a sentence. When I was working on an English translation of the Talmud, our team decided to go from one to he after only one one. We simply felt the sentences would sound better and be less “heavy.” Here’s an example:
If one performs any action without specification of intent, it is also considered as if he performed it expressly for its sake.
If you do decide to switch pronouns, make sure you go back to one when you get to a new subject. Here’s something I made up:
When one goes to the beach, she should put on suntan lotion. She might also consider using a beach umbrella. Her wallet can be kept underneath her towel. She’ll probably want to relax on her towel when she gets out of the water.
However, when one goes shopping, he should look at the prices of a few different options before deciding which product to buy. He will find that the products on the lower shelves are often cheaper than those at eye level. The healthiest food is displayed around the perimeter of the store, so he should begin his shopping experience there.
Other gender-neutral ideas
There are other alternatives to the use of one in a sentence, even when you are writing formally. For example, you can use a noun or “they.” Sometimes, just plain rewriting will solve all your problems. You can find out more about this here, in a post where I discuss gender-neutral pronouns.
Here’s the chart from that post:
You can get the chart for home use by clicking here.
One last thing
Keep a lookout for confusing sentences when using one:
If one complains, one needs to address the issue.
Now, does this mean that if an individual complains, he himself needs to figure out why he’s complaining? Or does it mean that if person X complains to person Y, the latter needs to deal with it?
It would be better to rewrite the sentence to be more specific, i.e., “If someone complains to you, you need to address the issue.” Or “If you complain, you need to figure out what is bothering you.”
Please let me know if you have any writing, editing, or grammar questions. I love tailoring my posts to what my tribe wants!
And as always,
When I was doing acquisitions at an indie publisher, one of the most frustrating aspects of my job was having to write a rejection letter to a hopeful author.
Sometimes the manuscript was so full of grammar mistakes and typos, I couldn’t figure out the prose. Other times the story was inaccurate (Gustave Eiffel committed suicide by jumping off his tower – not).
But most of the time I had to write that awful letter because the prose was Just. Plain. Blah.
Have you ever gotten a rejection letter? It really hurts, doesn’t it?
It strips away your confidence, leaving you depressed and frustrated. You have no idea what you did wrong, or how you could have made the book or story better.
A Solution to Rejection
What if I could help you enliven your prose?
Show you how to summon up the author inside you and transform what you know, feel, and remember into acceptance-letter-worthy writing?
Unpack concepts and techniques – with lots of examples and fun writing exercises – that will shoot you up to the heady heights of being a “real author”?
And what if I offered all this to you at half price?
For the next 48 hours, head on over and get my 10-module, premium audio course, Wake Up Your Prose: Description Unpacked, at half price!
Here’s what former students have to say:
“This course opened my mind to new material and refreshed (with a bang) things I knew. I review the modules and exercises often. It’s hard to believe the changes I’ve made to some of my writing that have produced more concise and, certainly, more fascinating reading. Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Did I really write that?’ Thanks, Deena!”
“I really gained a lot from this course! Deena has a way of forcing you (gently!) to squeeze the creativity of your soul onto paper. I loved her ideas to jump-start a short story, as well as the practical advice sprinkled throughout the course.”
“Deena’s classes are loaded with information. We learned how to pack a punch with our words and avoid common mistakes. She gave us a lot to think and write about, as well as worksheets for future reference. Both fiction and non-fiction writers, as well as copy editors and proofreaders, have a lot to gain from Deena’s courses.”
- a breeze to implement in your own writing
- broken up into bite-size, easy-to-understand lessons
- audio, with professionally designed slides
- 10 modules
- 1 bonus module
- 11 comprehensive, supplementary workbooks
- 10 hands-on, fun writing assignments designed to catapult your writing to the next level…and even higher
- ebooks, pdfs, checklists, and informative articles that will enhance your writing abilities
Module 1: Description Warm-Up. Get started right away, without a bunch of fluff and time-wasting information about me and why I’m so great. (I’ve provided a bio before Module 1; otherwise, how could you trust me?)
Module 2: Method Writing. Write about your own life and develop an arsenal of emotions and experiences to apply to your prose. (And get in the habit of writing every day.)
Module 3: Description Basics. The what, why, and how of description, and description best practices.
Module 4: The Art of Storytelling. Grab your readers from the get-go and use description tools for awesome storytelling and narrative.
Module 5: Show. Learn how to get your readers to experience, not just read, your prose.
Module 6: Tell. Report facts vividly, and move your narrative along in an interesting and masterful way.
Module 7: Analogy, Metaphor, and Simile. Use what your reader knows to convey something they don’t know.
Module 8: Putting It All Together: Description Review and Reinforcement. What did we learn? Where do we go from here? Recap the course and learn something new.
Module 9: Quick & Dirty Tips for Enhanced Description. Bonus techniques and advice from a veteran editor (me).
Module 10: The “G” Word: Grammar. A non-threatening lesson on why you have a greater chance of writing success if you care about grammar.
Bonus Module: Flash Fiction. Learn the basics of this trending genre, and try your hand at a complete story in less than 1,000 words!
Doors close on Friday, November 29th, at 11:59 PST.
I’m not planning to offer the course at half price again (my husband made me do it this time). Don’t miss out.
Still not convinced? Here’s the sales page.
Here’s the checkout page. (No need for coupon!)
See you inside the course!
In the past few months, I’ve been doing a lot of housekeeping on my site, blog, and email list. I’m using new vendors, and have been exploring different ways to present my blogs.
One new thing I’m trying is affiliate marketing, which means that if you buy (or sometimes even just click on) one of the products I’ve linked, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. I figured: Most of my posts have between 3 and 7 links to books and products I personally recommend. I might as well leverage a few of them to cover the not insignificant costs of maintaining my blog and website. This translates to more free, valuable posts for you!
And I can’t think of anything better than writing about how to get published…
Writing myself out of a rut
Like you, I have times when I simply don’t feel like writing – or even getting out of bed. How much more fun to curl up under the covers with a book and a cup of tea!
Speaking of reading in bed, I recently finished Kingdom of the Blind, part of the Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny. She is one of my very favorite contemporary authors. She is brilliant. I highly recommend her books.
During this same time period, I hadn’t felt like writing at all. In fact, I don’t feel like writing today, either. (Sound familiar?) However, Louise Penny has given me beautiful inspiration, and I thought I’d share it with you.
It starts with 2 words
A few years ago, Ms. Penny lost her husband. She didn’t feel like writing ever again. Yet after taking some time off, she continued writing her Armand Gamache series, to the delight (and relief) of her millions of fans. The following is what she wrote as an afterword to Kingdom of the Blind. I hope her exceptionally personal and inspirational words will help both me and you sit down and write every single day.
A funny thing happened on my way to not writing this book.
I started writing.
The truth is, I’ve known since I began writing [the first book in the series] that if [my husband] died, I couldn’t continue with the series….
How could I go on when half of me was missing? I could barely get out of bed.
I told my agent and publishers that I was taking a year off. That might have been a lie. In my heart I knew I could never write [the series] again….
But then, a few months later, I found myself sitting at the long pine dining table, where I always wrote. Laptop open.
And I wrote two words: Armand Gamache
Then the next day I wrote: slowed his car to a crawl
And the next day: then stopped on the snow-covered secondary road.
Kingdom of the Blind was begun…. I wrote…with relief. That I get to keep doing this.
Louise Penny on getting published
Here are some highlights from Ms. Penny’s fantastic piece on what to do once you finish your manuscript. (You can read the entire piece here.)
- [Get] a reference book called The Writer’s Guide to Editors and Agents. It…often has very helpful chapters on getting published, writing synopsis etc.
- Make sure your book isn’t just written, but polished. You won’t get a second chance with these people.
- Spend time trying to find an agent first – an agent will get you a better deal, find a good fit for your book with the right publisher, get foreign rights sold.
- Give yourself every chance to succeed. Edit, polish, do your homework, prepare – plan as though the rest of your life depend on it…. Now is a time to remember who you are, and this magnificent thing you’ve done for yourself. And not ever sell it short.
- Finish the book. Most people who start books never finish them. Don’t be one of those. You sure don’t want to be lying on your death bed regretting you didn’t finish the book.
- Read a lot.
- Read books on writing and getting published…. If this is your first time writing a book why would you assume you know what you’re doing?
- I suffered from writer’s block for many years…. What cured me was a sudden realization I was taking myself way too seriously. And that I was trying to write the best book ever published in the history of the world. And if I didn’t, I was a failure.
- I decided instead to…write what I loved to read. And to people the book with characters I’d want as friends…. They don’t have to be attractive, kind, thoughtful. But they do need to be compelling.
- Be true to yourself. Write what you want even if friends and relatives think you’re nuts.
- Be very careful who you show the first draft to…. You need supportive, encouraging, thoughtful readers. People who’ll offer critiques in a kind and constructive way and who understand the difference between truth and opinion.
My next post will be about writing general statements, such as “One should…” and “If one’s tie is caught in a vacuum cleaner….” Special thanks to my dear subscriber UC for the idea. If you’d like to suggest a topic for one of my posts, please do so! I’m all ears. Email me at Deena@BulletproofWriting.com.
Thanks for reading; it’s great to be back!! And in the meantime, remember what Louise Penny said, and…
Yes, you heard that correctly: She’s on the early-morning cleaning crew at Trinity College Dublin, coincidentally the same college that gives out the prize. The Rooney is given annually to an Irish-born writer under the age of 40 “who shows great talent and ‘exceptional promise,'” and who has published only once.
The winning author’s name is Caitríona Lalley, and she received the 2018 Rooney Prize for her 2015 novel, Eggshells. In another coincidence, she’s also a 2004 graduate of Trinity.
The Rooney Prize was created by Dan and Patricia Rooney, and was given for the first time in 1976. (The late Dan Rooney is the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team.) An author cannot apply for the prize; both the candidates and the winner are chosen by a selection committee.
Ms. Lalley, who is married with one daughter, was 39 years old when she won the Rooney – the very last year she was qualified to be in the running. Her day begins at Trinity College, scrubbing rooms from 6:00 to 9:30 am, after which she comes home to care for her daughter and to write.
What we can learn from Caitríona
I found Lalley’s story inspiring for many reasons.
She never gave up
Lalley comes across as a typical Humanities graduate who couldn’t seem to find a “real” job right after graduation. However, in her case, there was a difference:
She stuck with the writing, both when she had a job and when she didn’t.
While bouncing from one job to another, Lalley also experienced serious chunks of unemployment. In 2011, she spent a year pounding the Dublin pavement looking for any type of low-level job. She was rejected time and time again. But here’s how her experiences helped when writing and promoting her novel:
1. It gave her the idea for a social misfit protagonist who spends her days walking around Dublin looking for symbols and meaning in everyday objects. This is classic Method Writing, because Lalley used her own daily walks around Dublin only as the jumping-off point for her character; that’s where the similarities end.
It’s obvious that the author herself is not a social misfit, nor was she looking for deeper symbolic meaning in city structures like her protagonist. No doubt she was able to summon the authentic feelings engendered by spending the better part of her day essentially alone and searching, and apply them to the fictional character.
2. Surviving her job rejections enabled her to survive the many rejections from agents and publishers. As quoted in one of the articles, “There were many, many rejections, but after hundreds of [them], I think I’d gotten used to being told “no.'”
Lalley believed in herself and in her book. She wasn’t too proud to clean classrooms, dormitories, and bathrooms. Her writing wasn’t just a passing fancy, an “I want to maybe write a book some day” attitude. She took herself and her dream seriously. She wrote employed and unemployed. Her personal and economic status had nothing to do with the discipline of writing.
One day, Lalley submitted her novel to a contest whose prize was a day of pitching agents and publishers. And she won. And then she pitched. And then she got published.
She has a “day job”
Lalley’s janitorial job is perfect for her “job” as a mother, she says, and is a great fit for writing. She’s finishing up a second novel – and not planning on giving up her morning work:
It works well with my writing life. I’ve had paid copywriting jobs before, but it was hard to motivate myself to sit down at the computer and write my novel once my paid work was done.
I love this! I’ve heard from both other writers and my own subscribers that after a day of writing in their paid positions, they find it difficult to sit down and write what they want. And I, too, find it difficult to write after a day of editing other people’s work.
Granted, not all of us have the “luxury” of a job that doesn’t require us to think, reason, and solve problems. Nevertheless, I’d like to put Lalley’s idea out there. It’s something worth considering for anyone who’s looking for work.
You don’t have to be a janitor, but a job that’s totally different from writing can give you more head space to sit down after work and get your write your own stuff. It reminds me of when I was writing my senior thesis in university (a hundred years ago), and I took a computer science course as a diversion from all the right-brain stuff.
She’s working on her 2nd novel
Lalley was already almost done with her second novel when she won the Rooney Prize for her first one. This is how a true author behaves, and I admire her. After all, writers write, whether what they write will be read or not.
Lest we think Lalley is outputting thousands of words per day, one of the articles pointed out that although she had struggled with her second book, she had nevertheless plugged away at it every day.
Consistency trumps all.
She’s not rich
Lalley used her prize money to pay her bills, provide day care for her daughter, and buy a water tank for her attic. It sounds as if she scrambles like most of us. And this brings us to what should be every author’s bottom line:
Writing doesn’t always pay, but we do it anyway.
Every day, over and over again, whether we’re tired, energetic, sad, happy, hot, cold, under the weather or fit as a fiddle: it’s what we do, and I feel that this is where Caitríona Lalley can have the biggest impact on us.
Lalley’s advice for anyone who wants to write a book? Have a paid job that is not stressful. To quote one of the articles:
It’s very hard to write if you’re emotionally drained after work, or have a job that you dread. I know that cleaning is some people’s vision of hell, but it works for me. The bills must be paid, and until that six-figure sum comes a-knocking, everyone needs a day job.
I would add three other things that I consider good advice from Lalley:
- Process, not product.
- No expectations other than just getting the words down day after day after day.
Let’s hear from you now! Do you agree with Lalley’s advice about day jobs? Does she inspire you or discourage you? Let me know in the Comments. And, as always,