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  • Donald J. Bingle, Writer on Demand

What to Get Your Favorite Writer or Writing Friend for Christmas

Tis the shopping season, which immediately precedes the giving season, so I suspect that many of you clicking onto this blog are expecting me to flog my own inventory or give you a list of gadgets (Kindles, Nooks, and pocket recorders), gewgaws (T-shirts with writerly references, brass brads for screenplay submissions, and fancy journals), and books (dictionaries, historical timelines, and ... is there another word for thesaurus?) to tuck in the mail or post under the tree for your favorite writer and/or writing friend (not necessarily the same thing). After all, December is the month following NaNoWriMo, so even if you aren't on a first-name basis with a famous author, your social network of tweets, facebook posts, and IMs has probably identified a writer or fifty in your life. Sorry to disappoint the entire commercial-industrial complex out there, but that's not what I'm going to do. Your target writer-givee doesn't need fancy new electronics, special writing tools, or reference works (that's what we've got paper, pens, and the internet for). But there are things you can give them to make their holiday season and writerly career-track happier, brighter, and possibly even more remunerative. Take a look at the list below and choose the item that best fits your givee and your relationship: Helpful Support: Look, you don't need to be a fellow writer willing to talk about book-end structure, point-of-view shifts, nested flashbacks, and character-building dialogue to support a writer. You just have to be a friend who encourages him or her (Hey! How's the wordcount going this week?) without nagging about his/her writerly life. Other supportful behavior includes being willing to listen when they vent about their latest rejection and/or letting a writer write undisturbed when they need or want to write, instead of luring them to lame sporting events, Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathons, or social drinking establishments. Beta Reading: Writers, like cosmetic companies, need test subjects for what they produce and here, in the tough world of freelancing, innocent bunnies just won't do the trick. So, being willing to read and give honest, helpful feedback on what a writer has written can be a much-appreciated gift. Sure, it's a tricky gift--not only is it a bitch to wrap, but you need to be mindful of your relationship with the givee. Too much gushing enthusiasm is easy on the relationship, but not really that helpful unless the writer is standing on a ledge at the moment. Too much slashing, burning, and laughing is hard on the relationship and not really very constructive for the writer unless they are writing a darkly comedic how-to about pillaging. What you need to do instead is simply point out in a polite, respectful way what works and what doesn't work for you, where you got confused, and where things were a bit too slow for your taste. Sure, fixing a comma or six is a nice ribbon on the present and finding a bona fide typo along the way helps save the writer from embarassment down the road, but most writers are just looking for an honest friend who wants to help. Reviewing: Look, it's great if you buy a book written by your favorite author or writing friend. They appreciate the bucks and that you didn't try to mooch a free copy off of them. Better yet, you can read the book relatively soon after you get it--hopefully you'll actually like it. Let them know. They'll appreciate hearing that you liked the book or about what you thought of the big reveal or which were your favorite parts. They may even ask you a few questions about certain parts of the book or your reading experience--it's not a test, they are just trying to improve their writing skills for their next project. But, if you really want to do something nice for the holidays or any other time for your favorite writer or your favorite writing friend, once you've read the book, post an honest, thoughtful review about it on Amazon or or GoodReads or Shelfari or Facebook or Twitter or your own personal blog or ALL of the above. Now I know that reviews from friends can be irksome and fakey ("This is the best thing put on paper since the Bible!!!!!") and I'm not suggesting you do that (for me or anyone else), but any review that talks honestly about why you enjoyed your reading experience or which reveals what worked about the book for you is helpful. The review doesn't need to be five stars and be gushy. And you don't want to divulge spoilers or merely recite the plot outline. Just show your friend and the rest of the world in a pleasant and intelligent way that you read the book and it didn't suck and that maybe the rest of the world or some identifiable subset of the world (fans of epic fantasy, cozy mystery buffs, gamers, action adventure junkies, cannibals, steampunk rappers, or whoever) might like to read it too. So give a writer a real writing gift. Spread the word that they can write something worth reading. If this blog has gotten your holiday juices flowing and you are charitably inclined, you might also give a thought to downloading a copy of Spec the Halls, an entire anthology of stories about winter holidays on earth and elsewhere, all in support of Heifer International. Sure, I have a story in there (with humorous, helpful advice about critiquing), but the reason why I encourage you to support Spec the Halls isn't to line my Scroogerly pockets, because every dime paid which is not taken by Amazon or goes to charity--all the writing, the editing, the digital conversion, and the like, was donated. You can get Spec the Halls at or or the usual e-publishing websites. Ho, Ho, Ho! Don

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