Ten Gifts to Give Beginning Novelists

By popular demand..

1. A small notebook, so your budding novelist can carry it everywhere and jot down notes, and possibly addresses. Moleskine is the classic, but there are many others. Should fit in pocket or bag.

2. A large box. This is for all the drafts. Keep them! You may need them later.

3. Mortification: Writers and Their Public Shame, compiled by Robin Roberston. Everything awful that may happen to you in public has already happened to someone else, almost. Add to the list (I hope not).

4. Roget’s Thesaurus. I know there are some thesauri on line but nothing beats the paper version. It is somehow more troll-able. And when things go bad, you can warm it in the oven (not to much, it’s flammable) & cuddle up to it in bed.

5. The Stretching Handbook. Or something like it. Or Pilates lessons. Anything to straighten out that writer-spine & bad elbow we get after a while…

6. A Novel in a Year. Louise Doughty.  It is what it says, week by week. Not intimidating.

7. How Not to Write a Novel. Mittelmark and Newman. It also is what it says, and funny too. But if you read it you may never write anything. Beware.

8. The Art Instinct. Denis Dutton.  Why do human beings make art, including narrative art? An evolved adaptation, says the author. News just in: Art not a frill! Built in!

9. The Gift. Lewis Hyde.  How is art situated in the world of commerce? Or: why do so few artists make lots of money? How do gifts operate, as opposed to buying & selling?

10. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. I wrote this one. It’s not about how to write – more like What is this writing and how does it differ from other art forms, and who are writers, and what do they think they’re doing? The underground journey…


Filed under 1, YOTF Tour Blog

46 responses to “Ten Gifts to Give Beginning Novelists

  1. soesposito

    Oh, yes-I just found and read Negotiating with the Dead…very different creature than other books on writing, highly recommend! I especially enjoyed the question of which identity of the writer is the “real” one: the one who is the creator (aka the Writer) or the identity we take on when we crawl out from beneath our self-imposed shell and become suitable for social consumption. I have always noticed it takes time to switch from one to the other, especially from writing to reality. Maybe just hard to get out of my own head? (Oh, I also learned that you should run from people who say they are your biggest fan, so…ahem, forget I said that!)

    Anyway, I love these gift ideas and wanted to add a few things I have been given that have helped me cope:

    A weekend at a hotel alone just to write (good gift from spouse), a stress squeezey ball (pets appreciate this one), a frame for their first check earned from writing, and of course a good bottle of wine for either celebration or when rejection letters reach your pain threshold.

    Thanks, as always, for your words. 🙂

  2. I own and love #10, and asked for #1 for Christmas. Now I’m attracted to #3. Thank you for the list!

  3. Thank you so much, Margaret Atwood. You’d mentioned my book earlier on in your blog — I was delighted then and I’m thrilled now!

    Your fan,

    Denis Dutton

  4. I don’t have any of these. I think I’ve got a new reading list. 🙂

  5. Merry Maid service once or twice. A sitter to work while your novelist is writing. Spend some money to show that (a) you have faith in his abilities and (b) you understand that writing time is sacred.

  6. Thank you for these. Now, I really want Negotiating with the Dead. Reading Mortification helps after a less than perfect book signing or low turnout at a reading. Misery loves company or at least likes to read stories about others who have been even more miserable .

    I would also highly recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

  7. KMBos

    Peter Carey (Theft) in Nanowrimo.org pep talk recommends Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. Maybe worth a look. Good name for a writer, anyway.

  8. Excellent excellent ideas. Lewis Hyde’s a professor at my school and I definitely recommend #9, though I think I’m most intrigued by #6.

  9. Pingback: More from Margaret Atwood: Ten Gifts to Give Beginning Novelists « Univ of Puget Sound English Department

  10. Tim

    Pens, pens, pens!!! Mine are always being eaten.

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  12. How about an ugly, cheap notebook? There’s too much pressure with expensive ones.

  13. Great list! Thanks so much for NOT including an expensive pen. Expensive pens intimidate, IMHO. I prefer the Bic Stic, or refillable zebras that look really classy, but are very cheap, or, my personal favorite, “free” pens from hotels. Also, do you know of The Synonym Finder? As a former thesaurus lover, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

  14. I’m so thankful for the support and encouragement of my family and friends year round. Sometimes I have more notebooks then I know what to do with, but they are always a nice gift, ugly or pretty. Pencils. Books always books. I like the exercise idea. But one that I’m finding helpful is subscriptions of individual magazines that I am interested in or might be appropriate for submitting my work. It’s a big part of a writer’s job to familiarize herself with her readers’ markets, and magazines would go a long way to help.

  15. This list is wonderful and restoring my faith in gifts. Perhaps it’s excessive thoughtlessness, not blind stupidity, that causes most gifts to be meaningless. Also, excessive quantity does play a role.

    One scrounged up notebook and a work by Francine Prose is better than thirteen sweaters, two red and green wine glasses and a random assortment of needle point books (from Aunt Martha who still believes the 11-year-old you is the now you).

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  17. Deanna Schrayer

    Thanks so much for compiling this list Margaret. I love your work – your biggest fan, look out! 🙂 I enjoy the wit of your “real-life” words, as well as your novels. Now I have Got To Have Negotiating with the Dead – must tell hubby now! I’ve already asked for Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird. Hopefully it isn’t too late to also ask for the weekend at a hotel alone that Shannon mentioned, great idea!
    It’s all about me apparently. 🙂

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  19. Bookworm

    This ties in with the magazine subscription idea, but I know an aspiring writer who wanted access to a local university library for research material, but they were charging a fee since she was never a student there…

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  21. Lovely list. Where do you find this stuff? I would add– a nice full spectrum night light for bedside reading …maybe see you we’d night?? Thx -al smith

  22. #11 TIME–specifically, about five more hours in each day, and an extra day each week.

    #12 A room with a door that closes.

    #13 Nerve

    #14 Courage

    #15 Chutzpah

  23. I’ve replaced a notebook for ideas with the notes feature on my iPod Touch. I always have it with me anyway, so it’s more convenient.

  24. #5 for sure. My chiropractor asked what I do. I replied that I write, critique, edit and moderate–all online. He cringed and asked where I have my setup. When I told him I sit on the couch with my laptop he started in on a very polite 5 minute rant on ergonomics. He’s got some stretches he recommends (along with chair, keyboard, mouse, and even monitor recommendations). So, for a healthy writer, yes, please give them #5!

  25. Allan

    Thanx a lot, Margaret. this really helps – AWFULLY LOTS.

    Meanwhile, would you care to read excerpts from my novel? If you have the time (and inclination) that is.



  26. Pingback: Xmas gifts for the would-be novelist « Banjaxed

  27. Yes to all of these! And those of us who not only negotiate with the dead, but write novels about them, will be extra-happy if we can persuade Father Christmas to put the new OUP Historical Thesaurus in our stockings.

    Yes to Francine Prose, and I recommend Negotiating With The Dead to fellow fiction writers, students, and everyone else. It even gets cited in my Creative Writing PhD.

    But I haven’t been able to bring myself to read Mortification: festivals are quite alarming enough already

  28. Pingback: My brand new notebook « Μαρία Ξυλούρη | Δωμάτιο Πανικού

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  30. great list… happy holidays everyone

  31. Pingback: What presents did you get? | Writers and Artists

  32. I agree with number 7 entirely. I loved ‘How Not to Write a Novel’ and gave it to several friends. It was by far the best book I’d read on how to write a novel, just by showing you how ridiculous it looks when done badly!

  33. I will have to send this post to all my friends 🙂

  34. I love it — esp the pilates lesson. Loved The Year of the Flood. ‘Keep it in the covers.’

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  36. Great List of the perfect Gifts for a budding Author, Have you got anything for writers bloclk 🙂

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  38. Really interesting the suggestion about The Gift book inside gifts list. Looking for specific gifts for someone, you may also want to see this site http://www.ideasgift.org

    Have a good day

  39. I just happened to drop by and No.10 interest me. I’ve not read that book but believe it or not, I have a friend that can really do that.
    You know what he used to say, it’s not fun at all.

  40. Hey that is a really good list, my sister is attempting to write a book, I may need to go through this checklist for her

  41. I think it would be best if the small notebook can go together with a 3 inch hand-made sterling silver pen.

  42. Give them an experience they will remember, like christmas light installation. That will get their inspirational juices going

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  46. Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular article! It is the little changes that produce the most important changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!

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