#5onFri: Five Items to Add to Your Writer’s Wishlist

by Melissa Haas
published in Writing

Hullo, word nerds! The festivities have begun! Holiday season is upon us, and Black Friday is only a week away. If you’re anything like me, I’m willing to bet that you’re comfortably avoiding those herds of shoppers who hath ventured forth into the bleak midwinter’s darkness, determined to get deals. 

Still, just because you’re not out with the masses doesn’t mean you wouldn’t mind doing some shopping.

 I feel you.

Over a year ago, I asked to do this specific #5onFri because I wanted to share some of the best items for authors that I could personally vouch for. The items below have endured years of daily use, are the most affordable for their level of quality and – of utmost importance for a gift – are tinged with an edge of cool. 

Writers, get ready to start your wishlists!

Here are #5onFri gifts authors should be asking for:

1. Rocketbook 

You’ve probably heard of Rocketbook by now. They make reusable notebooks that are, in functionality, nothing less than sheer sorcery. How do they work? You write in the notebook, take a photo with your smartphone, check a box on the page and your written document is sent to one of the many locations you can specify (i.e., email, Dropbox, Evernote, One Drive, etc.). It should be noted that you can designate several different destinations per notebook. When you run out of pages, you simply wipe clean with a damp cloth and you’re good to begin again.

If you’ve been looking at Rocketbook products, wondering if they’re really worth the price tag or if your purchase will truly work with your tech, the answer to both is YES!! I was an early adopter and have been using Rocketbook items for a number of years. I really wanted to recommend these because over that course of time, I have changed computers, phones, emails, cloud drives, complete operating systems and Rocketbook has never had an integration problem. It’s as easy as using Bluetooth. 100% worth it.

Their products include lined notebooks, dot grid notebooks, reusable planners, looseleaf pages and now index cards, which are a great way to store (hoard?) all of your plot points while just keeping your current draft handy. 

Before you get too excited, there are two caveats worth mentioning: the sheets feel like you’re writing on plastic and after a couple of years, residue builds up like erasable marker on a whiteboard.

But have I mentioned that you can keyword search your handwritten notes in (at least) Evernote?

Writers, embrace the magic of our times!

2. Erasable Highlighters and Pens by Pilot

We’re all familiar with erasable pens. You know—the ones where you trade your mistaken marks for a slightly more aesthetic smear? 

Word nerds, Pilot has SOLVED this problem. Moreover, they have applied their friction-based technology to highlighters and markers!

I kid you not.

I was introduced to Pilot’s Frixion products through my Rocketbook use. However, they work brilliantly on regular paper as well as on Rocketbook pages. The pens are great, but the erasable highlighters in bold colors are next level – perfect for research. Once you’ve dropped something from your research into your draft, you can erase the flaming color and be assured that you haven’t overlooked anything important. I have even used them on library books (though I recommend underlining or else you will fade the text when erasing). 

There are a variety of Frixion products to choose from. Some work better than others. I have used most of them and IMHO, these are the best highlighters and this is the best pen set, especially if color coding is part of your process. You may be tempted to go for the markers and/or fineliners, but I don’t recommend them. Some colors are simply too light to grab your attention or are too similar to easily differentiate between.

As for the standard blue or black pens, it’s most economical to buy these 6 packs that include refills. However, if you’re simply curious but not yet ready to commit, start here for a set that will see you through a fair amount of writing and revising.

3. Software for Deep Work

Have you ever been writing and then had the need to research just one little thing? Something that will only take a few minutes. You find your answer quickly, but now notice all of the associated things that are just as interesting… and don’t writers need to encourage their curiosity? Shouldn’t you be thorough in your research?

Oh, and why not do a quick email check while you’re at it?

OK, this is not how you should be writing. Yet, it is how very many of us do write or find ourselves writing.

Never before have writers been subjected to so many distractions that are so readily available. Smartphones alone have been likened to carrying a casino in your pocket. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just turn off everything but the program you’re actually writing in?

Cold Turkey is a desktop app that lets you block everything except the previously mentioned work you should actually be doing. It’s a fantastic tool. There are no subscription fees, just a one-time payment of $40. Upon downloading, once you give it the OK to go to work, the most distracting sites will be blocked. (No worries; you can turn this feature on and off.) You can even thwart your unproductive self with an extensive password, one that will be harder to retrieve than simply staying seated and doing your writing. Cold Turkey allows you to schedule your own blackout periods and block specific programs and sites at predetermined times (e.g., no Instagram 9 AM – 5 PM, Mon thru Fri). All standard browsers are supported.

If you’re not yet ready to go Cold Turkey, a nice alternative is the Forest app. This is more of a visual, game-like app that blocks either the entire internet or just those sites that endanger your flow.

You begin with a digital plot of land, plant a digital tree and it grows in the background while you wrack up however many minutes you’ve specified. The more you use it, the more access you have to different botanicals. Now that might sound frivolous, but it’s a great way to see what you’ve done during your deep work sessions. By assigning a certain activity to a given tree or flower, you can tell at a glance how much editing, research, free writing, etc. you’ve done over a day, week or month.

BTW, if you use it enough, a real tree in the real world gets planted. Again, there are no subscriptions, just a one-time fee of $2. Of course, you can purchase more flora, but I have found that there’s no need to, as the basic app supplies enough variety.

As I’ve mentioned, these are products that I actually use. With so many productivity apps out there, I want to assure you that these are the “best of” deep work apps for writers. They are cost-effective and have remained stable over a number of years. Please note that Cold Turkey blocks desktop programs as well as internet sites, whereas Forest blocks only internet sites.

Essentially, these apps turn your computer into a typewriter. What better way to maximize word count?

4. The Splurge—Retro Typewriter Keyboard

Be honest with yourself, have you been a really good writer this year? Are you writing your second or third book? Are you sending your work out but still residing in that gray area, waiting for just the right person to appreciate your words?

Fellow word nerd, it is time to treat yourself.

While the previously mentioned apps turn your computer into a typewriter figuratively, these luxury keyboards do it literally. They scream “THIS IS WHERE I SHALL WRITE MY NOVEL OF GREATNESS!” and I can testify that they will keep that voice up.

This investment is one of those writing rewards that retains the feeling of accomplishment. Even after a couple of years, I’m still incredibly pleased that I get to go to my computer and use this

If you have an iPad or tablet, you are still in luck, as these digital devices can transform into typewriters as well. How much, you ask? There are many lower-end lookalikes ~$50, but I can tell you from experience they feel flimsy, almost like toys. Writers with fingers in the game should budget ~$175-200.

After all, you’ve earned it.

5. Books

Ah, those things everyone else thinks you have too many of, yet somehow you disagree.The following books make for excellent gifts or wishlist items because authors love them and find themselves returning to again and again, although they rarely do they purchase them for themselves.

52 Dates for Writers by Claire Wingfield

Give your normal life an exotic makeover. These 52 activities encourage you to get out there and use your Writer’s Senses: observation & imagination. You might even be asked to assume an alias. Each week, there is a prompt that propels writers to explore their normal surroundings, but in a different way – things as simple as taking a different route home or using public transportation – and then write about it upon your return to the real world. 

The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz and John Updike

Ever wonder what your favorite author’s office looks like? The Writer’s Desk is a photo collection of famous writers at their desks, simply doing their awe-inspiring work. See Amy Tan, Stephen King and many others with their piles of papers, hodgepodge of reference books, favorite writing supplies and quite often, a cat who steps in to edit. 

This Is My Best: Great Writers Share Their Favorite Work Ed. by Kathy Kiernan and Retha Powers

Is the piece you become famous for actually your best work? This book assures you that you will probably not become known for what you deem your personal best. It’s interesting to see the divide between what the public wants and what the author knows to be his or her crowning yet secret achievement. While I must confess that this is not a new book, I will say that you do get a sneak peek into the standards of renowned professionals such as David Sedaris, Gary Trudeau, and Arthur Miller. Can you imagine better company for your wandering writer’s mind?

*For more books and a great accountability planner to start the year off with, check out this prior #5onFri

Note: Neither DIY MFA nor the columnist have a vested financial interest in the products presented. Photos courtesy of Amazon.

BIOMelissa Haas is the Leisure Learning columnist at DIY MFA. She is also the author and illustrator of Catula: The Misadventures of Dracula’s Cat as well as The Night Before Christmas (NOW WITH CATS), among others. Follow Catula’s whereabouts on Instagram @CatulaTheCat. If you’re interested in downloading free coloring pages or seeing Margaret Atwood with a blowtorch, check out Leisure Learning related content at www.MelissaHaasCreates.com.

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