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Gifts Writers Can Give Themselves

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Tis the season, right? There are plenty of great gift lists around on what you can give the writers in your life, like this one from Modern Mrs. Darcy [2]. And an aptly named bottle [3] is generally welcome.

But there are other gifts, and I’d like to recommend that this December, you think about a very important writer in your life: you.

What gifts are important to give yourself, as a writer?

First of all, time. There are two ways in which time is the most important gift you can give yourself as a writer. One is to make sure that you have time to write, blocked off with intent and purpose. In my life, that’s a once-a-week block of babysitting, where my kids are taken care of and no other errands or responsibilities are allowed to intrude. For others, it might be a week-long retreat, a daily morning ritual, or nearly anything else. But it’s important to make sure you have it. Wherever you are in your career, whatever your process may be, it’s important that you write.

The other way in which you need to give yourself time: during a draft. Don’t just write something and call it done. That is not a gift. The gift is to chew on it, turn it over, dig through it. To set it aside and come back to it as a stranger. It’s possible to write a book very quickly — like during NaNoWriMo, when speed is the point — but even if you can write a good book quickly, you can write a better book slowly. Write in haste, edit at leisure. Let yourself have time to make it the best book it can be.

Also: company. While it isn’t always easy to find other writers to share the journey with you, I still think it’s incredibly important. And while it sometimes seems like writers who’ve gone through MFA programs have the advantage in this regard, I can tell you this: only a few of the writers I regularly rely on for critique, company, sympathy and support are from my MFA program. Far more of them I’ve met in other ways. Yes, mostly on the internet. Online groups like Writer Unboxed itself (yay!) have been an incredible resource, as well as conferences that might provide an in-person introduction but then go on to become close working relationships over Facebook, e-mail and Skype. Don’t think of it as networking in the sense of “oh, I guess networking is good for my career” — think of it as making friends. Friends who are also writers. They are gifts, every last one.

Finally: the benefit of the doubt. We can be our harshest critics, can’t we? One day, our work-in-progress is genius; the next, it’s crap. We’ve pretty much all been through it. I can’t think of a single writer I know who hasn’t struggled with immense self-doubt, who’s never had a day where they thought Eh, this thing I’m working on could very well be a complete waste of time. And yet, when we’re working with and advising our friends (see that note above about their importance), we never tell them, “Hey, just chuck this writer thing! It’s going nowhere!” Instead, we cheer them on. We see and celebrate the good in their work, and we share our thoughts on how they can shape or discard the bad. It’s important to be just as gentle with ourselves as we are with them, and yet, that doesn’t always come naturally.

Q: As a writer, what gifts do you give yourself?


About Jael McHenry [4]

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter [5] (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com [6] or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.