Hip to be Square(space)

HTML Code by Marjan Krebelj on flickr, used under a CC BY 2.0 licence

HTML Code by Marjan Krebelj on flickr, used under a CC BY 2.0 licence

Concerning websites

In his excellent book Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon says:

Learn to code. Figure out how to make a website. Figure out blogging.

In the same chapter, entitled ‘The Not So Secret Formula’, he gives his two-step process to unlocking the 'secret' of the internet:

Step 1: Wonder at something. Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you.

Sounds good to me! So here's what I'm wondering:

Why do so many people say you should use Wordpress to build a website?

Search 'How to start a website' and among the first page results are this, this and this. Away from Google's algorithms, even people like Chris Guillebeau and The Minimalists - both of whose work I regularly read - say that Wordpress is the way forward.

On the face of it, it's not hard to understand why. Whether using the .com or .org version, the array of options and level of freedom is incredible.

Jumping in at the deep end

In the summer of 2011, when A Tour of the Indies was going to exist online rather than in book form, I set up a self-hosted Wordpress site. My only previous experience was using Blogger, so going from that to the control panel for my brand new Wordpress install was daunting.

Really daunting.

So daunting, in fact, that it left me completely paralysed! I didn't know what 90% of it was for, and didn't know where to start prioritising what to learn. My brain was full of ideas for the website content; it wasn't receptive to learning about plug-ins, analytics, and other features I didn't know I would need to worry about.

I did the bare minimum to get things up and running, concentrated on writing blog posts, and looked for a plentiful supply of sand in which to bury my head when it came to everything else. Sadly, the project eventually faded (a whole other story...) but, while it existed, the control panel and the mechanics of building the website didn't stand a chance in competition with the need to produce regular features.

If a job is worth doing...

All that sand got a bit uncomfortable after a while, so at the end of 2012 - long before I'd read Austin Kleon! - I bought a book about HTML and CSS. I planned to "figure out how to make a website". I planned to make an investment of time in learning skills that would let me realise any future ambition for my online identity.

It was a sensible plan and, like many sensible ideas, it never came to fruition.

Instead, I preferred the long term benefits of actually writing. Practicing my craft took precedence over crafting my web presence. Am I the first writer to prioritise things that way? I suspect not!

The Writing Man

In early 2014, the time came for a professional presentation of my writing work and identity. One frequently quoted advantage of Wordpress is that it's free. The .org version only costs a domain name and hosting package, but I remained wary of getting to grips with all those options.

I looked at the .com version of Wordpress and one thing soon became clear: certain features would cost, which made the 'free' argument pretty redundant. Suddenly, a comparison with Squarespace seemed more legitimate.

I was only aware of Squarespace as an option thanks to good old fashioned advertising. I hadn't read about it or seen recommendations anywhere, but it sounded like a platform that suited my desire for an advert-free website with the potential to grow at the same rate I did.

After much research, I sat down one Thursday evening and started a free trial. Three hours later, I was in deep. I'd created enough of the website to know there was no turning back. Scrapping it, signing up with Wordpress and starting again from scratch made little sense.

One month

That's how long it took me to build The Writing Man as you see it now. I've put in the hours tweaking and refining each page over many late nights. There have been a few missteps, and I've deprived myself of plenty of sleep to properly present my writing to the world, but four-and-a-bit weeks is still a satisfyingly prompt turnaround when the effort is all my own.

Using Squarespace hasn't taught me anything in the basics of coding, but it has let me create a simple, uncluttered site that reflects my ideals. With the limited time that results from having a full time job, I've enjoyed using Squarespace as an intuitive, self-contained solution that has let me quickly refocus on writing.

The popularity of Wordpress is understandable, and I could have achieved similar with it. The .com version seems to offer a similar level of all-in-one-place functionality at a similar cost, but with a greater range of themes. The question is: does that equate to a better or preferable solution?

One final quote from Steal Like an Artist:

Nothing is more paralysing than the idea of limitless possibilities ... It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom.