If you use WordPress.org for your website, you were recently prompted to update the WordPress software to a new format. The new format is called Gutenberg (a bold move to compare website software with the printing press, but we'll roll with it), and it operates with a block system.
In case you're feeling a little lost, I'm going to lay out some basics so you can navigate your way around the new format without resorting to prayers or chocolate.
An overview of the format
Blogging formats were previously laid out like word processing software. That is, they primarily featured text with add-in options like images and tables. But with people taking in more and more information through visual and audio mediums, blogging software is changing to accommodate.
WP's Gutenberg is laid out more like a magazine, newsletter, or presentation. If you've worked with Microsoft PowerPoint, you've already used this approach with various boxes holding titles, text, images, tables, etc. which you can adjust and move around to get the layout you want. Thinking of your website that way may help you make the shift from WP's old format to the new one.
It's all about blocks
Blocks are simply boxes that contain data—whether image, text, or plugin. The default block type is paragraph, which is your basic text box. If you add a new post and just start typing below the Title box, you'll get a paragraph of text. Each time you click Return, you'll create a new block of text.
But what if you want something else? You have three options:
- Mouse-click the plus-sign in a circle at the top left, which opens a drop-down menu of common options: Paragraph, Image, Quote, etc. Scrolling down, you'll see even more choices, including your own plugins. Clicking there will create a new block of whatever you chose.
2. Type Return to create a new, empty block and a plus-sign will appear on the left. Click that sign, and you'll see a menu of block types. Choose which one you want.
3. Click anywhere in the block you're in and a menu will appear at the top left of the block itself. Where the block type is identified by an icon (a ¶ for a paragraph, a ” for a quote, etc.), you can click and choose a different block type.
At any time, you can change a block to another type by clicking that same icon. So if you type a paragraph and decide it's really a heading, just click that + and change it to Heading. Other text options include a List, Quote, Verse, and Preformatted. But more text options are available (like a Pullquote) from the plus-sign at that top left corner or by creating an empty block and clicking the plus-sign on the left side.
Working with images
As mentioned above, when you create a new, empty block, the plus-sign off to the left side presents you with a menu of options. Among those are Image, Media + Text, and Gallery. An image is just what you think—inserting an image into a block. From there, you can decide whether to keep the image in-line, center it, or move it left or right. If you move it left or right, text from paragraph blocks below will wrap around your image.
A Gallery is simply more than one photo in a single block. Lining up more than one photo was more difficult to do in the old WordPress, so this Gallery feature is a real upgrade. Just click Gallery, choose your photos, and it will display rather neatly on your page.
Media + Text allows you to place a photo and text that goes with it into a single block. This isn't the same as the wrap-text feature you get by moving an image left or right, but rather a way to specifically link image and text. For authors, this would be a great block for displaying a book cover with the story description and buy links off to the side.
This is how media + text will look. A good place for a book description here!
And Buy My Book links.
Using the sidebar
Several functions that were previously displayed in a menu above are now on the right-hand sidebar. You can view or hide that sidebar by clicking the gear icon (for settings) at the top right corner.
Once you're there, you have two options—to view Document settings or just Block settings. Within a block, you can change text color in a paragraph, add a custom URL link for an image, change the font size, etc. Clicking over to document, you'll see the place for categories, tags, featured image, and description. You can also change author there (nice for us, since we have four main hostesses of this blog!), as well as settings for publishing.
Saving and publishing your post
WordPress Gutenberg now auto-saves your work. WordPress itself just says every several seconds, but other sites claim its every 60 seconds. Regardless, you'll periodically see Save Draft at the top left corner change to Autosaving, then Saved, and back to Save Draft. Having lost a lot of work before, I'm really happy about the autosave feature.
But when you're ready to save, schedule, or publish the post yourself, here's the scoop:
To save, click Save Draft. The word will change to Saving and then back to Save Draft. Warning: We've had some issues with saving and currently believe it's an update/theme conflict. If this happens to you, wait until you see the Autosaving message again, then refresh the page, and everything will be back to normal. If your theme creator is regularly updating, they should fix the glitch soon.
To Publish a post, simply click the Publish button at the top right corner. The automatic settings are to publish immediately. However, WordPress has now added a confirmation step! So after clicking Publish, you'll need to confirm that request for the post to go live by clicking a second Publish button. Having accidentally published a post before I was ready, I also like this new feature.
If you want to schedule a post, make sure you can see your right-hand sidebar (click the gear icon at the top right if you can't), click over to Document, and change the Publish - Immediately to the date and time you want instead. The Publish button at the top right will automatically change to Schedule. Again, you'll have a second step to confirm that you want to schedule the post and you'll click Schedule a second time.
If you just want the classic editor back...
Let's say you updated, but you want to go back to the classic editor. You can do that by installing the Classic Editor plugin developed and maintained by WordPress. Once activated, the plugin will disable the Gutenberg update and return you to the editor you're used to seeing.
But before you do that... Let me make a quick case that everything is headed this way. If you're in the middle of a book release or a blogging challenge or something, you may well want to go back to the Classic Editor for the time being. However, the block setup is how most newsletters—which authors should have—and marketing materials are set up. So if you can take the time to master the new format, it will help you in the long run.
And eventually, certainly by 2022 at the latest, WordPress will stop supporting the Classic Editor. Before then, many plugins that worked with the editor will no longer be supported because they will have changed over. So while learning curves can suck—and we had no idea when we decided to write books how much tech we had to learn!—this change can really be a good one for us.
One trick to get a classic editor feel without reloading the old software would be to use a single block for your text. In the Gutenberg software, if you type a paragraph and click the Return button, you get a separate paragraph block. But you can create a paragraph within the same block by pressing the Shift key while clicking Return. So Shift + Return makes a new paragraph within a block.
The tips above should get y'all started. Those of you who have worked in the new Gutenberg block format for a while might have found even more shortcuts (which we hope you'll share in the comments)!
Have you updated to the new WordPress? What features are you struggling to find or use? What would you like me to cover next time?
Julie Glover would far prefer to write books and leave the technology questions to her computer-savvy sons. But necessity is the mother of
frustration despair invention.
When not wrangling with software, Julie writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. She is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency.