It’s a terrible time to be a writer. The publishing industry is in chaos, a large percentage of readers want cheap thrills and sensationalism, and there are more ways to waste time doing “research” than ever before. That’s why I’ve decided to get serious about which websites I frequent, and to choose these sites deliberately. Here are three types of websites that writers need to bookmark:
1. A favorite reference/search site. Today’s writer without a search engine is like last century’s writer without the telephone, dictionary, encyclopedia, library, and microfiche. My personal favorite is http://www.refdesk.com/, an all-in-one reference and search site run by Bob Drudge (father of Matt Drudge, of “Drudge Report” fame). I’ve been using Refdesk since I served as chief editor for my college paper in 1998.
Refdesk is free and supported entirely by donations, so there are no raunchy ads or annoying pop-ups. From the Refdesk Mission Statement, “The spirit of the original, non-commercial Internet guides Refdesk. This spirit envisions a living encyclopedia of information in the public domain, maintained by people who freely share their knowledge of where to find things on the Internet.”
If you’ve never used Refdesk, give it a try.
2. Google Maps. Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, writers need a working knowledge of places mentioned in their text. If you’ve never tried this feature before, start by mapping your address. Zoom in. Switch to satellite view. Can you see your house? How accurate is the image? Try the street view. What does that look like? Now imagine being able to use this tool when writing about places and roads that aren’t as familiar. While there are some issues with Google Maps (dated images might not reflect newly constructed roads or buildings), it can be a great way to build descriptions into your writing that would otherwise require travel.
3. Social media, with intentionality. Sure, everyone and their dog (and sometimes even their unborn children) are on Facebook, but it’s not the only social networking site out there. Since quitting Facebook, I’ve been looking for great social media sites that match my needs. I’ve rediscovered my Linked-In account, which provides connectivity with fewer distractions. And so far I’m enjoying Stumbleupon, a “web content discovery engine.” I spend gobs of time surfing the web anyway, so why not turn that into an opportunity to connect with others?