First Gutenberg Post: Why Can’t I Just Write!

WordPress 5.0 is scheduled for release Thursday, December 6. Some people are terrified of this happening.  I don’t think I’m one of them.

I have turned on Gutenberg for this post. Let me know if weird things happen on the screen while you’re reading.

The one serious issue still in process for WordPress 5.0 is accessibility. For that reason, I don’t recommend that people with issues using a mouse use Gutenberg until a promised accessibility audit is completed. Everyone else should be able to upgrade with reasonable confidence. If you’re the slightest bit concerned with how Gutenberg might affect your experience, install the Classic Editor plugin.

As Matt Mullenweg, team lead on WP 5.0, was announcing the projected release date Monday, I was already writing this post about one writer’s Gutenberg experience. I will now pick up on that original idea. 

Complaints about Gutenberg’s Interface

Last week, Matt Mullenweg published his Gutenberg FAQ. This was a fairly well-reasoned response to his critics.

But a few critics showed up to demonstrate their anger in front of the boss.

There was one guy who responded that “WP is history, and so am I…I feel it is a HUGE STEP BACKWARDS! But then gotta keep all those barely educated millenials (sic) happy.” Unfortunately, he didn’t really explain what his problem with Gutenberg was. Perhaps it was because his website is on Blogger now.

Two other folks offered more constructive criticism, worth examining. Their criticism focused on the way you write in Gutenberg. Thiago writes:

Comment from Thiago on Matt Mullenweg's Gutenberg FAQ post. "Why can not I simply write the way I like, with justified paragraphs, with colors to highlight ideas, etc? My blog, my style!"
Comment from Thiago on Matt Mullenweg’s Gutenberg FAQ post

Paul Marsden has a similar complaint, taken a bit further.

Comment from Paul Marsden on Matt Mullenweg's Gutenberg FAQ post: "You are forcing humans to write in a new, non-intuitive, un-human, inhuman way."
Paul Marsden’s comment on Matt Mullenweg’s Gutenberg FAQ post.

If you haven’t yet tried Gutenberg, these comments might fill you with terror. Let me suggest trying this version of Gutenberg before you call it “inhuman.”

The Gutenberg Learning Curve

Marsden makes a good point about how the Comments editor works, but I’m not sure it applies here. It’s also true that word processors also present a blank screen and you just type until you stop typing. Gutenberg takes a little getting used to, but the height of the learning curve is about the size of a pebble in the road.

Writing

I’ve been using TinyMCE, aka the Classic Editor, in WordPress for nearly 15 years. When I first typed in a Gutenberg block some months ago, I thought it was a little weird that pressing Enter demanded that I select another block. Well, the developer team fixed that. Today, finish a paragraph and another paragraph block appears. If you’d rather have a heading just now, move the mouse to bring up a menu, or type a forward slash like this / (which it helpfully suggests) to choose a Heading block. By default, the menu will make that a Heading 2, but you’ve got options. 

Note: As I’m typing here (in a Paragraph block, by the way), I’ve got a couple suggestions for the team: It would be nice to have a Note block with a border around it to make it stand out. I could add some CSS to make that happen in the Advanced settings for this block (it’s right there on the right side of the editor page), but my CSS skills aren’t quite up there yet. It would also be great to have the Word Count information at the bottom of the screen, like the Classic Editor does. I’ll see if anyone else has filed that as a bug.

Images

My other favorite thing about Gutenberg over Classic is how easy it is to deal with images. Those comments up there? I took a screen shot, put it on the clipboard, and pasted it into the spot. An Image block was created, and I could change the positioning on the page. It just worked! I was hardly ever happy with how graphics meshed with text in the old editor.  You also don’t need a separate window to type Alt Text, and handle the other editing tasks to make the image look right.

If you just want to use something already in your Media Library, you have to create the block first, then choose from Upload, Media Library, or Insert from URL, just like you used to.

HTML, Blocks and Structure

But why can’t WordPress just let me write on a blank sheet of (electronic) paper? Why blocks?

One short answer is: Every web page you’ve ever seen has paragraph tags. Every word processing document has code of some sort hiding out of plain sight. Blocks in Gutenberg should make it easier for you to communicate. It may also have a benefit in that search engines can better find your content (though probably not immediately).

Some folks have noted that the menu of formatting options for writing is not at the top of the screen, always visible. In Gutenberg, those options are available with the push of a mouse at the top of each block. This can be a problem if you can’t use a mouse, but I’m confident this will be fixed soon.

As a writer, I think Gutenberg will make a positive contribution to democratizing publishing on the web.  I think we’re all going to be better at communicating with Gutenberg very soon.

I guess I can say that I, for one, am ready for Gutenberg! I’m hoping to learn more this weekend, watching at least some parts of the Livestream of WordCamp US. Get your free ticket here.

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7 thoughts on “First Gutenberg Post: Why Can’t I Just Write!

  1. My problem with Gutenberg is that breaks all the workflows I had set up. Not least, I can no longer cut the raw HTML and then paste it into the non-wordpress CMSs that syndicate my copy.

    That and the fact that I don’t think in blocks. Nor do I write directly into the web-based system, I always write stories in Markdown and export to WordPress… that doesn’t work so well now either.

    1. Bill: Thanks for your thoughts. I’m thinking that instead of copying from the WordPress editor, you could just copy from the finished output. The paste should include standard HTML and be picked up by the other CMS.

      As for Markdown import, I’d file bugs for any issues you’re seeing. Markdown should work in Gutenberg as well as it did in TInyMCE. If it doesn’t, the devs need to know about it.

      1. No that doesn’t work. Copy in the CMS is all HTML. all the time. If I copy the finished story I just text, it’s all one lone paragraphs, no breaks, no heads, no images, no links, no nothing.

  2. OK, Mike. Thanks to you, I’m no longer cowering in terror. So, there’s that.

    I am still scratching my head, though. I compose in NotePad++. Then I paste into WordPress, format the paragraphs, insert images, and do a final edit. It works great. TinyMCE is as intuitive a writing environment as I’ve seen. Nothing’s broken. Nothing needs fixing.

    I’m a little puzzled as to why “Gutenberg will make a positive contribution to democratizing publishing on the web.” It sounds as if you’re saying that other publishing platforms, while effective in terms of SEO and such, are arcane and clunky. So for compatibility’s sake, WordPress is changing its platform to match their arcane clunkiness.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Larry.

      In practical terms, you should still be able to compose in Notepad++, and it should work just like it always has. I’ve used that workflow and paragraphs should flow properly. As I suggest in the post, grabbing images should work at least as well as before.

      On positive contributions: I like what I hear about the future, where you don’t have to remember that widgets are in the Appearance menu in the Admin screen. Where you don’t necessarily have to choose a Post Type if you want to do something different. The editor expands the number of choices available to the writer.

      I’ve also been thinking that Gutenberg may also be a boon to technical communicators as well. I wonder whether WordPress could become a platform for structured, semantic content. That’s another topic for another day.

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