A Gift for You

Today is Ernest Hemingway’s birthday. As some of you know, this interests me because I am obsessed with Hemingway, but for most of you, why should you care? You should care because Hemingway knew how to give himself a gift, and I want you, today, right now, while reading this post, to pledge to do the same for yourself.

One of Hemingway’s most notable gifts to himself was a large, expensive boat he named Pilar. If you are independently wealthy or have married a very wealthy second spouse, as he did, I think a large, expensive boat could give you as much happiness as it did Hemingway. But if you are a writer in company with most other writers, making what writers tend to make these days, I’ll give you another suggestion.

While I’ve written my entire life, I’ve been seriously committed to the novel form and full time writing for a decade. I’ve given myself lots of little writer gifts like outstanding books on craft and inspiration, novels by my friends, and little match-books with Hemingway and Fitzgerald book covers. These small tokens are important and inspirational, but they are no match for the gift of meeting other writers and people involved in publishing, which is the gift I want you to pledge to give yourself this year.

The first time I gave this gift to myself, I signed up for a writer’s retreat. I didn’t have a lot of money and I was eight months pregnant with my second child (yes, that’s right) so I knew I couldn’t venture too far from home. I found a retreat within forty-five minutes of my house. To cover the cost, I asked my husband, my parents, and my in-laws to give me money toward the retreat instead of Christmas gifts. Their gifts helped pay for the retreat, and from it many positive things resulted.

  1. Others read and critiqued my novel for the first time ever.
  2. I was able to critique the work of other writers.
  3. Total immersion in writing for five days straight without distraction was priceless.
  4. I made lifelong friends.
  5. Going to that retreat sent a message to my family, my friends, and most important, to myself—the message that I was making a public act declaring myself a writer and committing to it.

Over the years, I’ve continued to pass the writing conference collection plate to my loved ones on birthdays and holidays, and with each conference I’ve attended, I’ve reached a new level in my profession. The ways I’ve grown from attending retreats, meeting other writers, and dedicating time to my own writing have far outweighed any sacrifice of time or money I’ve made to make them. (I hope my loved ones feel the same.)

In this time of social media connections, which are important and have led to many of my “real life” meet ups, don’t forget that the highest value of interaction and communication comes from meeting others face to face. Whether you ask a Twitter friend to coffee, attend a local book signing of your favorite author, or save a thousand dollars to attend a major writing conference in New York City, every chance at personal connections is a gift to you and to others.

In light of all of this, please make a promise to yourself today, on Hemingway’s birthday, to shower extravagant time and attention on your passion.

You are worth it.


*Photo courtesy of Potapova at DeviantArt.com.


About Erika Robuck

Erika Robuck (@ErikaRobuck) self-published her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING. Penguin Random House published her subsequent novels, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, CALL ME ZELDA, FALLEN BEAUTY, and GRAND CENTRAL, a collaborative short story anthology. Her forthcoming novel THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE releases in May of 2015. Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is also a member of the Historical Novel, Hemingway, Millay, and Hawthorne Societies.


  1. says

    Very important post, Erika! It’s so easy, for me anyway, when writing a novel to lose perspective on many aspects of it. Is this a story anyone would want to read? Is the narrator’s voice compelling? Are there plot problems I’m not seeing? And on and on. You are so right. There is nothing like personal contact with other writers, agents, editors, friends, and beta readers to help spot these issues but also to encourage, inspire, and energize you toward your goal. I recently had coffee with a writer/critiquer I had only “met” in our online class. What a treat! And to have time, sheer time, to focus on nothing but the writing, bliss.

    And so, like you, I give myself the gift of spending time (and $$) on my passion. To Papa Hemingway!

    • says

      Mary–I can’t stress enough the benefits these face-to-face interactions have brought to me, both personally and professionally. Best wishes in your writing!

  2. says

    I must admit, going to writers conferences feels more like eating my carrots than giving myself a present: good for me but not one of my favorite things to do.

  3. says

    Great post! I tend to put writing on the back burner after all the fires (dinner – sometimes literally, laundry, ailing parents, kids moving back home, injured pets….) are put out so your words and encouragement are true gifts! Thank you!!

  4. says

    Such a lovely, post, Erika. Whisking away to a writers retreat is on my wishlist of “must-do-absolutes.” I actually had the opportunity a few years ago, hand-tied with a bow, when hubby give me the gift of selecting a retreat and promising to keep the home-front calm and clutter free while I was away. But, foolish or not, I traded it in for a promo opportunity for my newly released novel instead. I still wonder over the wisdom of my choice as I continue to pine away for the lost retreat :-(

    I do believe those writerly gifts are important. While generally small, and decidedly odd to anyone other than ourselves, they are an essential boost. Just this week I completed the spit and polish suggestions from my editor, and have gifted myself with the Rolodex file I’ve been coveting for months :-D Yippee! Thrilling!

    VERY MUCH looking forward to the arrival of “Hemingway’s Girl!” That’s an event surely worthy of a *double gift.*

  5. Carmel says

    Being a shrinking violet, I’ve always shied away from writers’ conferences. Too many people. Too noisy. Too exhausting. But a retreat. Hmmm. That’s something to think about.

  6. says

    Pamela and Carmel–You both raise excellent points. For those of you who feel overwhelmed by crowds, a more intimate retreat setting would benefit you. One of my friends goes away to a cabin by herself for the weekend when she needs to focus.

  7. says

    LOVE this post, Erika! It is so important to remember that we need to feed our passions and take care of ourselves! Rewarding ourselves for our hard work is so often pushed away due to finances or feelings of selfishness, but it is SO worth it for our health! Personal development as a writer is, indeed, a worthwhile gift. Thanks for sharing this post with us!

  8. says

    Erika, I have done just that this year! My first writer’s conference was in April where I met people who are now friends. Just two weeks ago I drove 170 miles to attend the book launch party for Sharon Woods Hopkins, author of KILLERWATT and KILLERFIND, two great mysteries. Sharon and her husband, Bill, have become good friends – all because I attended a writer’s conference.

    We DO need to treat ourselves to the gifts of in person connections!

  9. says

    Outstanding post! There is no greater gift for a writer than the friendships with and connections to other writers. I think I just figured out my Christmas list for this year. Thank you for such a well written and useful post.

  10. says

    I love to hear how many of you have been inspired by meeting other writers, and look forward to hearing from those of you who have taken an oath to do so.

  11. says

    So true, Erika. It can feel like an indulgence, but it is a necessary part of being a writer. Without my community of writer pals (many of whom I have met at writers conferences and WU) I have no doubt I’d be lying fetal in some gutter somewhere, mumbling something about word count or queries or elevator pitches.

    Huge congrats on this morning’s happy news about your new book!

  12. says

    I’m fresh from a weekend writing retreat, Erika. It was too short but exactly what I needed–a relaxed setting, a small group, where we could be real with one another rather than “on”, and a housekeeping-, cooking-free spell.

    I’ve been to RWA Nationals, and enjoyed those for altogether different reasons.

  13. says

    I’m on my way home from the PNWA conference in Seattle where I delivered a keynote, taught a workshop…and best of all talked with many writers, including Writer Unboxed’s own Sarah Callender (see above).

    Sarah and I spoke about a Writer Unboxed retreat, a possibility that Therese and Kathleen have been considering. You’re right, Erika, that there’s nothing like meeting other writers face-to-face. I am usually at retreats, conferences and workshops to teach but I always learn.

    So, Therese and Kathleen…it’s in the air! A Writer Unboxed retreat could offer serious and professional novelists a space and opportunity like no other. What do you say?

  14. says

    Ahhh –sounds heavenly. You’re right though; in the midst of college tuitions and high school sport fees tor my kids, it takes a low priority. Maybe I’ll make it my next savings project.

  15. says

    Erika, I want to count reading this post as my gift. Because I’m already working on getting to a retreat and you’ve confirmed that it’s the right thing to do!

  16. says

    I feel a very warm vibe here, friends.

    Don said it. We need a Writer Unboxed retreat. I’m there when it happens.

    Thank you for all of your comments.

  17. says

    Erika– I love this post. What practical advice to ask others to contribute to the “conference fund” for birthdays and holidays. People generally want to give gifts that will make you happy, so why not something like this? I remember when I sought your advice before attending Muse in Boston last year. I hope to attend another writing conference next year. Why not a Writer Unboxed one!?

  18. Ann Reid says

    This is wonderful advice. Loved ones really do want to give us gifts that we want– and mostly, in my experience, miss the mark. Not so much because the gift itself is a dud (although my 90 year-old Aunt’s gift of that emerald nylon/polyester cardigan with machine crewel be-ribboned Christmas gifts embroidered on it and be-spangled with sequins and glitter and Grinches was a rather memorable gaff when it comes to my more simple tastes) but because what we as writers REALLY need is not on sale.

    Fellowship and professional support are not on offer around the corner from slinky nighties or the chocolatier at most department stores. Asking for something that will help you get where you know you need to go to help get fellowship, timely professional advice and support is the best, most memorable gift ever. My trip last year to the Historic Novel Society conference in San Diego was a gift like that– and I’m still reaping the rewards.
    It truly was one of the best gifts ever!

    • says

      Ann–You made me laugh with your description of that sparkly cardigan. I can imagine a character with a whole personality grow from it, so perhaps it was a great gift.

      I’m planning on attending the Historical Novel Conference in Florida in 2013. I hope to meet you there!

  19. says

    It has taken me over 30 years to finally realize my dreams. I started out in high school writing and my English teacher told me to never stop. However, my self confidence and life did not let me persue it to the full extent that I could have. But I never did stop writing. I had the chance, once, in those 30 years to attend a writer’s weekend workshop and I loved it. Thank you for this advice. Just a small note – my third novel is being published this fall. So never give up on your dreams.

    • says

      Syliva–How wonderful! You are an inspiration.

      That reminds me of Frank McCourt. He didn’t write Angela’s Ashes until he retired from a thirty year teaching career, and went on to win the Pulitzer. Best wishes to you, and congratulations!

  20. Denise Willson says

    Cheers to that! Now, where’s my pen…Dear Santa….

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

  21. says

    I look forward to being able to attend a retreat/conference some day. A WU conference would be on the top of my list! Crossing my fingers it comes to fruition. And thanks for this inspiriing post, Erika. You have convinced me that I need to attend one sooner than later.

  22. says

    Meeting with other writers is immensely inspirational! Whether it’s over coffee at Tim Horton’s or at a writers group meeting, talking to like minds is more enjoyable than having to justify your ‘hobby’ to non-writers.
    A convention or retreat are at the top of my wish list! The Christmas gift idea sounds like a plan.