Soooo… how did it go? For me, not so good. Last post, we went our separate ways to ramble and explore our new WordPress site for a bit. I don’t know about you, but for me it was pretty rough going. I got more than a few scrapes and bruises along the way.

Let’s Recap

Things started out well enough. I had just finished updating the “tagline” at the top left by clicking on “Edit Header” in the Preview window, which then took me to the page where I could make changes to Site Identity:

After that, somehow or other, it took me to the next item on the checklist:

I selected the big red “Edit homepage” button which returned me to what I presume is the editing mode. Looking at the main body, I saw that it says you can edit the page by clicking on the Edit link. I couldn’t see where this “Edit link” was though, so I decided it would be prudent at this point to follow the learn.wordpress.com link. (It’s really difficult to see this link against the dark background; I’ve circled it below.)

Quick-Start Guide

Over on the learn page, the first recommended link is Get Going Now. This takes us over to the Quick-Start Guide page. From here we can either continue reading down the page to follow the Quick-Start Guide, or we can follow the “skip this guide” link if we feel we need a little more “hand-holding”. I decided to start with the Quick-Start Guide, and go through the more in-depth guide later if I still needed to fill in the gaps.

The first step in the Quick-Start Guide is “Get started: register, fill in your profile, and name your new creation.” This basically walks us through signing up with WordPress, which we did last blog post. We did everything in this section except for setting up a profile. I skipped setting up my profile for now. I can always do that later if I think I’ll be staying for a while.

Having A Look Around

The next step in the Quick-Start Guide is “Get comfy: learn your way around WordPress.com.” First it tells us to visit the Reader.

Whoa, what is this?? This is interesting. It looks like a sort of newsfeed within the WordPress platform. I’m sure we’ll be coming back to this when we get more comfortable around here.

Back in the Quick-Start Guide, it tells us to explore the My Sites menu. We’ve seen this page already. This is where it dropped us when we first created our new site, and also where it took us to make changes to the Site Identity. The guide says to us, it says, “Click around and explore — you won’t break anything.” Mmmyeahhh. We’ll be coming back to that “you won’t break anything” part a little later on.

So far my impression is that WordPress is very different from Wix and Squarespace. There is so much more going on here! It seems like in this place you become a part of a community. You can follow other people’s blogs and they can follow yours. There’s a user forum. Completely different atmosphere here. I’m beginning to understand why this platform pigs out on over a third of the pie.

First I Got Lost

The third step in the Quick-Start Guide is “Get configured: customize your theme to make your blog your own.” Remember my last blog post I didn’t know what it meant to “choose a WordPress theme”? Well, here it is! I’m about to choose a WordPress theme! (This is so exciting!)

Hmm… I’m a little lost. It says to go to My Sites > Themes but I can’t find it. I went to the more detailed instructions and it says to “hover over My Sites” but nothing happens when I hover.

Alright, I got it. Don’t hover, just click on My Site then look for Design on the menu in the left-hand panel. Click on it to open up that menu item and you’ll see Themes listed under there. So the path is My Site > Design > Themes. (Update: they have since changed Design to Appearance, so the path currently is My Site > Appearance > Themes.)

So now we’ve found where Themes is hiding. Select it and you’ll see a list of recommended themes come up. You can choose any of these, or if you scroll down the page, you’ll see a “Show all themes” button. Select that to bring up a search function that lets you filter themes according to various criteria.

When you click on a theme, it opens up detailed information about it. You can see a template of what it will look like and read about some of its features. There’s a back-button to go back to the theme selection page, so you can easily look at different themes and see which ones you like.

I really like this theme called Baskerville 2. Here’s its info page:

When you find a theme you like, select the “Activate this design” button. (By the way, some of the themes you have to pay for, but many of them are free. You can filter for free themes in the search function.) A little dialogue box appears thanking you for selecting the theme and encouraging you to customize it (big red “Customize site” button).

Selecting the big red button takes you to the “customizer”. (If you select “Learn about this theme”, it just closes the dialogue box and lets you look at the info page you were just looking at.) There are lots of different things that you can fiddle with to customize the look of your site. I could spend days here but I just made some choices I could live with for now. I’m sure there will be many tweaks as the blog develops.

Then I Got Confused

So far so good, right? Well, here’s where things start to fall apart. What follows is my internal dialogue over the next 20 minutes of (air-quotes) clicking around and exploring and (air-quotes) not breaking anything:

“Holy moly, there are so many things! So many possibilities! It’s exciting and fun! But also: information overload.”

“I’m so confused. I can understand why some people may prefer to just stay with Wix. So much simpler and easier to use.”

“I don’t understand what’s going on. Why is my theme not updating properly?”

“WordPress just crashed my computer.”

No matter what I try, I can’t get my site to look like the demo. It has the Baskerville theme for the header, but not for the body. I tried to update it by choosing a different theme, then re-selecting the Baskerville theme. Then it showed the previous theme I had just discarded in the body. It will sometimes momentarily show the Baskerville theme, but always revert back to the other theme.

I’ve gone back to the more in-depth guide to see where I’ve gone wrong, but it’s not really all that helpful. I’ve followed the instructions; it’s still not working. Now I’m thinking maybe I’m just not understanding what I am looking at.

Clear the Cache

Alright, so let’s go back to the page that gives us all the information about a theme (the one that pops up when you select a theme from the list). There are two tabs here: one says, “Overview”, the other says “Support”.

On the Support tab there’s a big red button that takes us to some sort of forum. There must be something wrong with this theme. This theme just broke my computer! Surely other people besides me have had trouble with this?

Well, a few things come up when I search for “Baskerville 2” but nothing that specifically talks about it being defective. I did find some information suggesting that you may sometimes have to clear your cache in order for the preview to show your updated theme. I’ve tried to clear my cache. Nothing.

(In case you don’t know how to clear your cache, this article gives instructions for a number of different browsers.)

Maybe it’s my laptop that is the problem? I email myself the link to my site and open it up on my tablet. Same problem here! I am super frustrated! I can’t understand why this isn’t working. I’m thinking maybe I inadvertently messed up the html code somehow with all that clicking around and not breaking anything I did earlier?

Static Home Page

I find another little nugget of knowledge on the support forum. Someone mentions that for a particular theme that someone is having trouble with, they have to select the Home page to be static. Here’s what this means. When you are in the customizer (My Sites > Design > Customize) one of the things you can customize is Homepage Settings. In here, you can choose whether your home page is set with its own content, or whether it pulls content from another page. Here’s what it looks like:

In theory, I should be able to choose for the Home page to pull content from my Blog posts page. It seems to me that the Baskerville demo page has a Home page that is doing just that. At least, that’s what it looks like to me. Which is why I chose the option “Your latest posts” when I was customizing it. Maybe this is the problem? I fiddle around with this but… it’s still messed up. I finally decide it’s time to give up on Baskerville 2. As much as I liked it before, I’m starting to hate it. Although, I don’t think the problem is this theme specifically, because I have tried several themes and they are all behaving the same way!

Let’s Figure This Out

Ok. Breathe. There’s got to be a way to make this work. I’ve seen it mentioned in a few places that WordPress is “easy”. It can’t really be this hard! I try again, on my tablet this time. Clear the cache again. I try again to look for a theme, a really simple one. I find this one called Twenty Twenty. Great, it’s a pandemic-year theme. This oughta be good.

This time, when I’m in the Homepage Settings, I choose “A static page”. I don’t know why I can’t choose “Your latest posts” but being as yet a mere Novice, I don’t seem to have a choice. Maybe we can choose “Your latest posts” when we graduate to Rookie status.

I’ve made sure I’ve cleared the cache this time. I hit “Update”. I hold my breath and… it works. I can’t believe it! It really works!

I’m not ready to link to my new WordPress site yet, but here are some screenshots for you to admire for now:

And you know, with all that clicking around and not breaking things I did in trying to get the Baskerville 2 theme to work, I began to get an understanding of how editing the pages works. Not completely. Not fully. But I did get an inkling of an understanding of the anatomy of a WordPress web page. I don’t really know what exactly made it work this time, but after a lot of trial and error, I was finally able to get the selected theme to upload properly.

Troubleshooting

Unfortunately, throughout this entire episode I didn’t take any screenshots of what I was seeing when the Baskerville theme wasn’t working. I tried to re-create the problem by starting fresh with a whole new site so I could show you, but guess what. It works this time. Of course it does. But here’s the difference with the second site: it’s from within the same account as the first one, and this second time creating a new site, it didn’t start with that initial mini-tutorial walk-through. It just had me select a theme to start with and sent me on my way. So I wonder if maybe there’s a bit of a bug with that initial-site walk-through? Maybe I’ll test out the theory by creating a whole new account at some point.

Or it could just be that the combination of not clearing my cache and not making the proper selections in the customizer was too much for my PC to handle. Or possibly these free themes are known to be buggy and that’s why they are free. Perhaps time and experience will reveal all these mysterious workings of WordPress to us Initiates. (Yes. I’ve promoted myself from Novice to Initiate. I deserve it, dammit!)

Bottom Line

There’s definitely a learning curve with WordPress.com. My experience so far with Wix and Squarespace were a cake-walk compared to this. Having said that, I can see that I can potentially have a lot more fun with WordPress. Despite this extremely frustrating beginning, I am undaunted. I will continue to explore this platform in future posts and share with you what I learn along the way.

See you next time!

Feature image credit: Elisa Ventur on Unsplash