Good day, fellow aspiring writers. If you've come for advice, you've come to a good place. I thought of two topics this week, so I tossed a coin and this is the winner. What I'm about to share is fairly simple and common, and you seasoned computer users and writers might already know this, but my advice is the same for you and younger writers- if you use a computer frequently, or even at all, exercise caution at all times.
The Internet is a vast conglomeration of data and information - but not all data and information exist in safe domains. If you have email, be careful who you share it with and note that if you use it to fill out information to sign up for a site account (like a social networking site), chances are you'll get spammed - or worse - receive emails with malicious software, just waiting to be opened. They say a good writer writes about what they know, but what do writers do if what they want to write is beyond the scope of their experience? For example, I write fantasy. I have no idea what the Medieval times were like, how they dressed, or what their customs were, so how can I write about that? The answer - research, but even research can be dangerous.
I had a close call a few months back when I searched the web for instructions on how to make a medieval princess dress. Thankfully, I had reliable software that blocked the baddies, Trojans, and other awful stuff, but someone out there could be an easy victim without it. So, what can you do? Here's a few ideas:
Your Local Library - libraries can't give your computer a virus. On top of that, they have loads of resources, no matter what topic you're interested in, plus you can grab a few books, look through their indexes, and jot down the information that's pertinent to your story. Be a good sport and put the books on the "return" cart before you leave. Your librarian will thank you.
Wikipedia - let me clarify that if you're writing historical fiction, don't use this website as a resource. Since the articles can be written and edited by anyone, the information is likely inaccurate. What Wikipedia is good for is gaining a general idea for something that you don't know much about. For example, I have a story where a family resides in a watermill. I knew what watermills looked like, but I didn't know how the process worked. With Wikipedia, I was able to learn enough to write a convincing, detailed chapter about the structure, to the point that some readers have asked if I've visited a watermill or knew someone who owned one. Wikipedia is a great and safe tool, but only in a general sense.
Avoid Unfamiliar Sites - if the domain name looks funky or if you've never heard of it before, chances are you're safer not clicking on it. No need for unnecessary risks.
Overall, be safe. Computers are amazing tools, but they can lead to some terrible stuff. No one wants their hard work compromised, so research smart and play it safe.
How do you keep your Internet experience a safe one?
I'm David, and viruses are nasty.