Bonus tip #1: If you want some wrapping inspiration, check out Andrea Seigel's theme wrapping. Bows aren't the only accessories you can add to a gift and you don't have to use traditional tags.
Bonus tip #2, advanced: Use double-stick tape when wrapping for a seamless look. (I still did the ends with regular tape since I was not up for that additional level of hassle this year.)
These tips assume you know the basics of wrapping and are meant to make the process a little easier and the results more satisfying.
1. Work on a large, hard, flat surface.
A table is ideal, so you can sit most of the time while you work. Your bed may seem tempting, but it is too soft if you want to make those crisp wrapping paper edges. Put a board on it, you say. OK, but make sure it's hard. I used one of those large, thick cardboard things for cutting sewing patterns, but the folds in it caused me all sorts of trouble since it didn't lie completely flat. Also, standing and bending over the whole time will wear you out in no time.
If you don't have a table that will work, make plan B the floor but avoid carpets with a thick pile.
2. To make your wrapping look neat, don't cut too much paper for your package.
This is the main key to avoiding crumpled, sloppy edges.
Make sure you have enough paper to cover your package end-over-end on all four sides plus a couple inches.
Then for the other 2 sides, you want a little more than will cover 1 of those sides completely. (When you wrap the paper around the package the long way, it will effectively double up so both sides will get covered. Just be sure to center your package on the paper left to right.)
3. Don't cut too little paper for your package.
If your cutting goes awry as it inevitably will when the hour is late, don't go crazy starting from scratch if it's just missing by a small amount. Cut a strip of paper large enough to cover the gap and place it under the seam where the paper was supposed to meet. Then place your tape from one edge, across the strip, to the other edge and it will hold it all together.
If it will look neater putting your bandaid strip of paper on top, do that, but it will take a lot more tape to hold in place.
Wrapping purists and perfectionists may disagree with the patch theory, but when the hour is late and the paper is short, this is the way to go.
4. If your package is slim and vertical, wrap it on its side if it's OK to rest it that way.
I know from experience that it's a lot harder to wrap these sorts of things standing upright. Avoid it if you can. If not, I refer you again to #1.
5. Crease the edges for a sharp look.
Once your package is wrapped, but before it is bowed, run your knuckles along each of the edges to give the paper more of a crease on its corners. (E.g., one knuckle on the top while the other runs next to it on the side.) Make sure to run your knuckles over any seams in the direction that won't rip the paper. Doing so will also prevent potential paper-cuts.
6. Even if you finish wrapping early, you may not be done.
It's likely family members will enlist your help wrapping their gifts. If you can't get out of it--or want to be nice--offer to help with the stocking stuffers. Roll stuff up in tissue paper, fold over the ends, tape and you're done. In my house at least, stocking stuffers need not be neatly wrapped. Failing that, offer to wrap a few packages but leave the bows and ribbon to them. Gift garnish is a real time and momentum killer.
Those are the main things that come to mind without getting into a full-on tutorial. Share your own tips and revelations in the comments. Good luck!
Two years ago on TTaT: Having a brother