colored, wooden toy blocks stacked randomly

How I Came to Love Blocks in WordPress

A Gutenberg Love Story

I know. You hate blocks in WordPress. I get it. I hear this almost every day from WordPress users all over the world.

If you’re thinking I’m going to spend this post trying to convince you how wrong you are and why you should love blocks like I do, you can chillax. In fact, I even wrote a post about how to stay with the Classic editor forever. So this isn’t a blocks tutorial or a slippery bait n’ switch convincer-type article. It’s just my experience.

If you’re wondering how any sane person could love using WordPress blocks or get on board with the site editor in WordPress, I’ll gladly tell you my story. And maybe you’ll come to the conclusion that I am not, in fact, sane, and that’s fine. Maybe in reality I’m typing this post on an imaginary keyboard while an orderly stands by to give me my meds. It’s a plausible reality. But for a few minutes, let’s pretend I’m sane and I’ve actually posted this to the real internet.

Before I get into blocks, let’s chat about the Classic Editor.

I Didn’t Always Hate the Classic Editor

Hate is a strong word. But yes, these days I dislike using the Classic editor very much. I didn’t always.

I started using WordPress around 2009. I came from the Blogger world, and back in the 90s I was an upstanding resident of Geocities, where you had to write HTML from scratch if you wanted to customize anything. So when I fired up WordPress for the first time, the Classic editor felt familiar. I was instantly comfortable in WordPress.

For the most part I used text editor mode. There was something nice about being able to granularly tweak my pages and posts — or maybe I’m just a control freak. Over time, I slowly picked up the habit of using the visual editor and discovered how much more efficient it was to use.

I loved WordPress from the beginning. I’ve never seriously tried any other platform since then. Just for kicks and to keep myself honest I ventured into Joomla and Drupal territory a few times, but they never stuck.

I was happy with the WordPress editor just the way it was. Then came Mailchimp.

Hello, Mailchimp

I can’t remember when I started using Mailchimp for my newsletter, but I embraced that platform, too. Early on, formatting emails was very similar to using WordPress. There was a simple text editor that had many of the same controls as WordPress.

While the text editing was familiar, one concept that was different was the ability to drag n’ drop elements from the side menu to your email. You could drag in image placeholders, a logo, fields, headers, and more. You set up your email layout using these — ahem — blocks. You could change the order and create templates to use in future emails.

By the time WordPress came out with blocks in 2018, I was already primed. But it wasn’t a smooth transition.

Wrapping My Brain Around Blocks

I was not a fan of the Gutenberg project when it first came on the scene. I’m usually an early adopter of new tech, but I didn’t get into blocks right away. Even though I was used to the concept from Mailchimp, blocks didn’t figure into my usual WordPress workflow. There were a few reasons:

  1. Writing in blocks sucked. Rather than have a nice empty field to compose my beautiful prose, each paragraph was now a block. I couldn’t select multiple paragraphs. It was a frustrating exercise in cut and paste. Terrible. So I got into the habit of writing in LibreOffice and formatting in WordPress — which took longer than using the Classic editor.
  2. I had trouble finding the right block when I needed it. It wasn’t efficient.
  3. Columns, images, and media+text blocks. Confusing as hell. Without writing a lot of CSS, they didn’t behave like I wanted.

Things definitely needed improvement before Gutenberg could become my BFF.

When Do We Get to the Love Part?

In the meantime I had started using Elementor and Divi on some client sites. So I devoted much of my time to learning those interfaces and forgot about core blocks.

I was also contributing to WordPress in Support and soon started contributing on the Testing team. When Testing started focusing on Full Site Editing, I was forced to get back into blocks in a serious way. I spent hours in Gutenberg and developed proficiency using blocks. The core team had also made some significant updates to blocks, such as the ability to select multiple paragraphs at once.

During testing, I built several sites using the default block theme. I was giving feedback and pointing out bugs. Slowly, I started to get more comfortable in Gutenberg than Classic. In fact, for one writing client, I asked if they would be willing to switch from Classic to blocks because I discovered that posting on their site was taking much longer than necessary.

I suddenly found myself a fan — nay, evangelist — of the block editor.

Using Blocks Today

Today, I use the default Twenty Twenty-Three theme to build all of my new sites. I haven’t even bothered to explore any new block themes yet. The Site Editor has become my tried-and-true WordPress workflow. I even cancelled my Elementor subscription, because I discovered that I can literally do anything I want using WordPress core and the default theme.

Once I got a handle on how things worked, it became easy to do what I needed.

There are still some things to be improved, for sure. But it was extremely gratifying to give feedback on how the menu functioned and then see it implemented in the next version. I realize that not everyone has that kind of perspective — or the time to contribute. But as part of my contributing, I just used blocks a lot. And from my experience, anything you do a lot makes you proficient pretty quickly.

You Don’t Have to Get On Board

You don’t have to love blocks, or even like them. And I’m not going to twist your arm by using literary tricks to convince you that you should use them, too. No surprise ending here.

But I do think that if you have even a passing interest in learning to use blocks, or you’re just feeling behind the curve, you should give it another try. I think the problem many people have is that they jump in to build a new site or try to fix their existing site and get frustrated because they just want it to work. I get that.

So don’t do that. Build a dummy site on your local computer and just mess around. Who cares if you screw everything up? You have no skin (or money) in the game. Just start over. Try using Local by Flywheel — it’s free and it’s what I use for development. You can build as many WordPress sites as you want and it costs nothing but time. So if you do have time, I encourage you to try it out.

If you still hate blocks in the end, then you can keep using Classic forever. My philosophy is that if the tools get the job done, then they’re the right tools. Enjoy your work and don’t try to conform to something you hate in the name of progress.

Photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash

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