“Did you know they have the internet on computers now?”

Welcome to thewriterscollective.org, the new interactive home of the Collective online! For those of you who attended our recent website launch event on February 3 at the fabulous Aqua Books, some of what I’m about to cover here will be familiar ground. Those of you who didn’t attend—you missed a great party! Fortunately, I was able to eat enough cookies to supply the deficiency.

When the question of hosting the launch evening came up, I volunteered, because I am genuinely excited about this project, having been involved since its inception two years ago.

I’m just going to say it outright: I love the Internet. No, seriously, I do. It might have something to do with the fact that the Internet and I have kind of grown up together—developing from a small, fragile being whose only support came from a small but tightly-knit group of nerds, into a mature, confident repository of information, opinion, and “Simpsons” trivia (including the title of my post).

The Writers’ Collective has taken a few tentative steps onto the information highway over the past few years. Our journal, The Collective Consciousness, recently became available via digital subscription; the board has a Google group for archiving meeting minutes and other important documents; our weekly e-mail list is one of the primary avenues for delivering timely updates on Collective activities, projects, and programming. But there was one thing missing in our technological odyssey: a website. Well, we had a website in the most technical sense, but for a long time there wasn’t very much on it. It was one of those things we kept meaning to get around to, but which ended up continuously on the back burner. A website would be nice, we kept saying. Not now, but soon.

In fall of 2008, we struck a committee, to develop a few ideas about what a website for the Collective might look like. The discussion was lengthy (we are writers, after all) and quite animated; it turned out that there was a lot more potential in having our own space on the web than we had initially realized. Everyone in the group had pretty strong opinions about what elements were essential to a good website. It had to be technologically advanced—but still easy to use. It had to have a variety of content—but not be cluttered. It should provide an interactive experience—but not try to replace real human contact. It should be updated regularly with fresh, interesting content—but none of us wanted to be the ones spending our Saturday evenings plugging in lines of code.

Our direction became clear once we were able to break it down to an essential question: who is this website for?

The answer: you.

We wanted a space that would enable us to continue supporting, encouraging, and recognizing our members. We wanted to create a place where writers could come to network, to be inspired, to get involved with the Collective (whether as members, volunteers, charitable donors, or maybe even future board members) and to learn more about the business of this craft we all love. We also wanted somewhere where we could showcase the great work our members were doing, and some of the fantastic programming and projects on the horizon. We wanted a way for members to communicate with us and with each other, to come together as a community. Finally, we wanted to give our members the opportunity to get to know their board of directors—who we are, why we do this, and how we’re working for you.

With these goals in mind, we submitted an application for a Winnipeg Arts Council Audience Development Grant. And there’s not much point in my keeping you in suspense about whether or not we were successful…. From there, it was a matter of finding the right developer to bring our vision to life.

We received a number of proposals from different developers, all of them exceptional in their own way—but one team in particular seemed really tuned-in to what we were looking for. Not only did they promise to deliver everything we wanted, but they proposed a few innovative ideas that we hadn’t even considered. It was clear that they really grasped the spirit of what the Writers’ Collective was all about and what we were trying to do, and so we were pleased to invite Brent Toderash and the team at WebRiggers to develop our website.

It’s been quite an interesting process; I’ve never actually had a chance to witness a website being born, and I have to say that the process wasn’t quite as laborious as I had expected. I think that’s mostly due to Brent, who has been wonderful to work with throughout the development.

Being presented with this elegant and engaging new home on the web is a little bit like receiving a really pretty notebook as a gift. As writers, you are probably all familiar with this phenomenon: when people don’t know what else to give a writer, they figure that at the very least, we could all use something to write in. I regularly receive a selection of lovely little books, from expensive hand-crafted leather journals to homemade decoupaged scribblers—and I always feel the same feeling of simultaneous excitement and nervousness when I open them up to make those first, hesitant pen strokes. I always feel that within each of these notebooks is the spirit of a truly dazzling piece of writing, in the same way that a sculptor can see the statue that already exists deep within the block of stone. And I’m wracked with guilt at the idea of spoiling that pure, perfect surface of potential unless I know what I’m doing.

That’s kind of how I felt when I was working on this blog post: as though I might somehow do the wrong thing and Ruin Everything Forever. And what I want to say to you now is, don’t feel like that—or rather, try not to feel like that, if you can help it at all.

We would like to put our shiny new website to the test, and we fully anticipate that during the process it is going to get its corners blunted and its pages dog-eared. It might even get a little bit of coffee spilled on it. And that’s okay! Because it’s the nature of text online to be changed, even as it changes us.

So we would love it if you could fill this place up with questions, and comments, and of course, creativity. Jump into the fray, and help us to make this site a meeting place for the writing community here in Manitoba. Don’t sit here staring at this post any longer!

Go on… you know you want to.

After a year as volunteer layout artist for the Collective Consciousness, Eve Dutton joined the Writers' Collective board in 2008 and became Vice-President in 2009. Her third-grade report card reads as follows: "Eve loves to write. Unfortunately, we cannot get her to stop."

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