Toolbox Stocking Stuffers

The holidays are upon us and that writer in your life is almost impossible to to buy for. Forgive my ending that sentence with a preposition, because do I have some deals for you.

A couple of years ago, I saw the Alphasmart NEO in a Writer’s Digest advertisement.

This baby may not look like much, but it is pure creative functionality. It starts up instantaneously, runs on two AA batteries (which will last 700 hours), and best of all, it does not have internet. No Facebook-ing. No tweets. No “research” before you get started. Sit your ass down, because that is all this thing does. Want to write for 12 hours straight in a blackout? Done. Export your work to any program you want. The NEO¬† emulates the keyboard of your computer and re-types it. (Which looks awesome.) For editing, you will still want your computer, but for quick and dirty first drafts, this is ideal.


Of course, there is something to be said for the old standard, and nothing says old standard like The Elements of Style.

For my money, there is no better book on style in the English language than the one Strunk and White first wrote in 1918. The book is in its 4th edition, although you can find a 2011 Edition on Kindle. If you are any sort of writer, you should have this book. If the writer in your life doesn’t have it, they cannot be complete until they own at least one copy. I own both the 4th Edition, originally published in 1999, and the 2011 Kindle version, mostly so I can access it on my Kindle app any time I need it. It is one of the most widely used books in writing classes. Stephen King swears by it. Time Magazine listed it as one of the 100 most influential books since 1923. Short. Sweet. Awesome.

Writing is a lot of perspiration, but sometimes you need inspiration. Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing has inspiration in bucket-fulls.

Would it be too much to say that this book changed my life? Because that might be understating it. This was one of the first writing books I ever read and to this day it is the all-time champion. Ray Bradbury’s passion for the written word oozes off the page. You won’t find grammar. You won’t find mechanics. You won’t find theme and structure. This book is all about the love. If you feel burnt out, if you feel like you just can’t write anymore and it was all for nothing, if you just can’t type another sentence, pick up this book and let Bradbury remind you why you started writing in the first place. Bradbury liked to tell a story about Mr. Electrico inspiring him to live forever. Ray Bradbury was my Mr. Electrico.

These are all tools I swear by, but what tools are on my wishlist? Well, the last thing any sane person would think I need is another writing book, but I’ve had my eye on a couple.

I am a very practical writer. I believe in a blue-collar approach that embodies the idea of a toolbox. For me, writing isn’t about waiting for a muse, it is about hammering nails. Writing a story is roughly the equivalent of building a deck or making cabinets for the kitchen (neither of which I can do.) From appearances, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer approaches it in the same way. Publisher’s Weekly mentions it as a potential companion to Elements of Style, which ought to sound familiar, because I just sold it to you a minute ago. I like the concept of the book, and it has gotten some very good reviews.

I love mythology. I love studying classical story structure. It is amazing to think about how classical dramatic theory still influences modern storytelling. Aristotle’s Poetics is still studied by a lot of writers, particularly screenwriters (I have been known to be one from time to time.) The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers is promoted more heavily to screenwriters than fiction writers. Still, there is a lot to learn from mythic structure for any type of writer. Besides, as much as we hate to admit it, our readers grew up in a movie-watching generation and expect certain storytelling conventions. This book has had some good reviews and sounds very interesting.

There are definitely non-toolbox gifts for writers. There are all sorts of literary collectibles, books, and decorations. Writers are largely collectors and they all have something they love. I’m sure some of my colleagues will touch on some of the fun stuff. But if you are looking for something practical that your writer will use for the rest of his/her career, you might consider some of this stuff.


Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at

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