5 Unconventional Gifts for Writers (to Sharpen Craft and Productivity)
Looking to buy a gift for the writer in your life? I’m going for something a little different here—you won’t find a book or many of the conventional gifts that ordinarily adorn these lists. I’m focussing on tools that have helped sharpen my craft and productivity, often indirectly. Remember you don’t need an excuse or a special day to inundate writers with presents—you can buy a gift at any time! And yes you can even buy a gift for yourself. Let’s get started.
It’s no secret that a lot of writers like coffee. Whether bulletproof, single bean origin or indeed a cup of Joe from the local coffee house, we love to get our caffeine fix. But just as not all coffee is equal, neither are all methods of brewing your coffee equal. I bought an Aerobie AeroPress coffee maker last year and it was a real game-changer. So much so that I’ve managed to convert numerous friends and family members to the AeroPress. The AeroPress brews the best cup of coffee I’ve tasted in terms of its rich flavour and also brews a completely smooth cup of coffee, which was particularly welcome given I’d been mainly using the French Press or Moka Pot previously. In an age where coffee machines are becoming more complicated and electronic, it’s great to see a manual coffee maker you can use on the go and with minimal cleaning required. But don’t just take my word for it, check out the array of professional reviews on AeroPress’s website. Bloomberg Businessweek, said of the AeroPress, “the AeroPress may be the world's greatest single-cup coffee maker.”
If you want to go ‘all-out’ with your gift then consider a high quality single-origin Arabica bean coffee to accompany the AeroPress. You could even consider a manual coffee bean grinder for a truly indulgent coffee experience. Just remember, the higher the quality coffee, the less you’ll need. You’ll be surprised at just how few cups of AeroPress brewed coffee you can drink to feel energised.
Bonus tip: If you often experience anxiety and are jittery after coffee, supplementing with L-Theanine can take the edge off. Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner and Nutritional Therapist, Evan Brand, recommends a two-parts L-Theanine to one-part coffee ratio. You may also consider matcha tea, which is high in L-Theanine, as an alternative to coffee, the highest grade is organic grade A ceremonial tea.
The idea that “sitting is the new smoking” is gaining traction to highlight the disadvantages of a sedentary lifestyle. Chances are if you’re spending a lot of your time writing you’re also spending a lot of your time sitting down. There’s a great body of scientific evidence to support the assertion that spending prolonged periods of time sitting down can adversely affect our health. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, said in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, “The way we live now is to sit all day, occasionally punctuated by a walk from the parking lot to the office… The default has become to sit. We need the default to be standing.” Some of the dangers of sitting for prolonged periods include an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
I actually find that sitting down for extended periods of time leads to tight hamstrings and lower back pain. The solution? A standing desk. Now there are various ways to incorporate a standing desk into your life. When I was living in Japan I just bought two plastic boxes, wide enough for a laptop, stacked them on top of each other atop my dining room table, and used them as a makeshift standing desk. While spending some time in London, I happened to find a chest of drawers that was the perfect height for a standing desk. Unfortunately such makeshift stands aren’t always possible and the upfront cost – and lack of portability – of a fully-fledged standing desk can be impractical. Luckily StandStand takes care of both issues. Dubbed “the only truly portable standing desk” it lives up to its label. It’s easy to assemble and can be placed on any regular desk or table to create a standing desk. Retailing from just $69 it seems a fair price to pay for improved health.
However, just as I find sitting down for too long to cause adverse health effects I would also caution against using a standing desk for the entire day, at least at first. Just as you don’t want a sore back from sitting, you don’t want sore feet from standing all day long. Personally, I use a standing desk for the tasks that require less mental energy such as administration, editing, conference calls and checking email, and resort to sitting for more creative endeavors such as writing fiction. Play around with standing desks and see what works for you.
FYI: I interviewed the creator of StandStand, Luke Leafgren, in episode twelve of the Paleo Minds Podcast.
The Five-Minute Journal
The Five-Minute Journal is a simple journalling tool to start the day. It’s a great way to record what you’re grateful for and to focus on the important things in life. Various studies, both scientific and anecdotal, document the benefits of journalling and gratitude. I also use it as a method for focusing on the most important tasks for the day ahead. There’s both a physical and electronic version of the Five-Minute Journal, although the app has currently been removed from iOS for redevelopment. The Five-Minute Journal has been designed for use twice a day. It begins with an inspirational quote or challenge to foster positive thinking, after which you record the things you are grateful for and answer “what would make today great?” In answering this question I hone in on the most important things I want to achieve that day. To finish the morning ritual there’s a section to write daily affirmations. The evening component of the Five-Minute Journal continues the trend of positivity with “three amazing things that happened that day” and challenges you with, “how could I have made today better?” It may sound a little idealistic to the uninitiated but I really think the Five-Minute Journal can provide a huge boost to your morning. Once the app is back online you can pick it up for a few dollars, or you can pick up the wonderfully produced physical copy now for $22.95.
While we’re on the subject of great ways to start the day, it’s worth mentioning meditation. I’ll be the first to admit, for a long time I wasn’t convinced by the idea of meditation. It sounded a little too spiritual, a little too airy-fairy, for my liking. But I gave it a go and it’s a fantastic way to clear a busy mind. It takes practice – a lot of practice, actually – but persevere with a daily meditation routine for a couple of weeks and you’ll find yourself calmer and more able to focus. As David Lynch said, “the thing about meditation is: you become more and more you.”
All well and good, right, but how does this link to a gift? Don’t worry there are options. For the initiated consider purchasing a soundtrack to accompany meditation sessions. There are so many artists out there making music ideal for meditation. Buddha Bar, Robert Rich and Japetus are all recommended. For the beginner looking for something guided, check out either the HeadSpace or Calm app. There’s also a great app for natural sound effects if you want an unguided meditation, called Relax Melodies.
I considered finishing this gift guide with something a little more writing-related – like Scrivener, ProWritingAid, or even recommending a writer’s retreat such as The Horror Writer’s Workshop Transylvania – and while you’ll find value in all three, I want to keep with the unconventional and endorse kettlebells. Let’s face it, nothing says “I love you” more than sixteen kilograms of cast-iron (sounds like the start of a Fred Venturini short story).
A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. John F. Kennedy once said, “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” If JFK’s too political for you, there are numerous studies linking exercise with improved mental health and cognitive function. Any exercise is better than no exercise, and I’m not going to argue whether barbell, dumbbell, bodyweight or kettlebell training is better. Each have their benefits and if you follow the right routine you’re bound to see results quickly.
So, why have I singled out kettlebells? Well, apart from the aesthetic, I reckon you’re getting the most bang for your buck when you purchase a kettlebell. A single kettlebell can be used for a full body workout. In fact, if you’re really looking for a minimal effective dose, Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Body, suggests that simply performing kettlebell swings twice a week for 15–20 minutes can result in tremendous gains. Not a bad return on investment for thirty minutes per week. If you’re interested in exploring kettlebell training further check out the work of Pavel Tsatsouline, often dubbed ‘the master of the kettlebell’. You may be put off by Pavel’s macho bravado and militant style, but if you can overlook this you’ll find an awful lot of wisdom in his words.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my alternative gift suggestions. Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments.
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