slow reads 6.0

I switched to WordPress a year and a half ago because I needed a low-maintenance blog. My final Dreamweaver iteration is now my favorite — clean with an accordion navigation system that showed off my best work. But what work went into showing off that work! Every thing bloggers never give a moment’s thought to I did by hand each time I posted. Now I’m sold on low maintenance.

I went in for high maintenance early into my blogging because I wanted to mix a portfolio with a blog. I found I wanted to highlight what I considered my best writing no matter how old it got. I’ve come up with six major blog designs over my eight years of blogging, and each attempted to balance the old with the new. I finally got comfortable enough with WordPress to create enough menus to let readers see as much of my old stuff in an organized fashion as they could take.

But my first WordPress blog was still too skewed to the new. I became aware of this bias when I began to let weeks and months go by without writing more than a post, maybe two. My visits to my blog were like archeologists’ visits to Pompeii: slow reads had become an artifact that attested to a lot activity suddenly and completely abandoned. I just can’t freight a site like that anymore. I need a blog that is low maintenance from a technological as well as a writerly point of view.

In a few hours’ search, I found this theme. Its creator designed it, he says, as a portfolio for a particular kind of artist or photographer — one who likes to write. I’m no artist, though I like to take pictures. I’ve retrofitted the theme’s chief portfolio functions — the thumbnails and the home page’s slide show — to highlight my best writing. And because the theme is designed to be more balanced between the old and the new, I think I’ll feel better leaving it for weeks and even months on end. (Really, I should take the blog off the home page, just make it a tab on a static home page. But that doesn’t feel like blogging, not really.)

The theme is also responsive, as more and more themes are these days. So it looks good on my iPhone. It should look good also on an Android phone and on any tablet, though I haven’t checked.

ThemeHybrid, which provides the theme’s platform, offers relatively attractive themes. So far I’ve been happy with its support community. (Genesis, my old WordPress platform, is very good, but their themes aren’t nearly as attractive or as dissimilar as ThemeHybrid’s are. I still use Genesis for my classroom blogging.)

I continue to outsource slowreads’ comments to Facebook. Sometimes the comments people leave me on Facebook never make it here, but I like the idea of having a single conversation, of having my comments appear both under the blog post and on the Facebook update linking to the post. It would be unlike Facebook to fix the glitches very soon, but who knows.

On the subject of comments, all my pre-WordPress comments died a month ago. Echo took over Haloscan some time ago, but in the spirit of Bain Capital, it seems, it bought Haloscan’s business only to close it down. I saved comments to only five or six posts before the deadline. I didn’t persevere in my project to save them all. Perhaps it’s for the best. If slow reads were too much like a museum, I’d never write well there.

So I’m slowly deleting all of the old Haloscan links at the bottom of the posts. I also have a lot of work ahead of me turning pages into posts and reassigning new categories to those posts. There’s plenty to do, but I’m happily ensconced in a new home that may hold together even when I’m not so ensconced.

Version 5

I thought I’d be signing off blogging this past February for a while for a couple of personal reasons, but I was wrong.  I realized recently that my announcement that I was suspending blogging operations happened around Ash Wednesday and that my new site would be ready around Passover.  That made me wonder if my old pattern of giving up blogging for Lent was so ingrained in me that, even when I wasn’t observing the fast, something inside me was still functioning in it.

I’ve usually done my site makeovers during late Lent when the pressure of not blogging was beginning to get to me.

I started blogging in February 2004 with a three-framed Dreamweaver template (above).  On the right was a Blogger template that I had stripped of all but the date, the title, the post, and the HaloScan comment field.  On the left was a monthly digest of my best blog writing as well as other writing – usually longer articles and essays — that never appeared on the blog side of the site.

My first Lenten makeover (above) brought everything into Dreamweaver.  Neither Blogger nor anything else I could find would allow me to highlight a few of the older posts.

The next change – the move from orange and black to purple, red, and white (above), was largely cosmetic.  It’s still my favorite look of the five.

The fourth version of slow reads (above) is the one you’ve seen for the past three years up until now.  It was the site’s second major change.  I rearranged the page navigation to approximate a book’s layout, complete with “front matter” and a search field I called “index” – it seems embarrassing to write about it now – and I started using an accordion plugin for Dreamweaver for navigation.

The fifth version of slow reads I’m introducing this week is probably the biggest change of all, even bigger than the move to version two, which was the move from half-Blogger to all-Dreamweaver.

I couldn’t get the promising plugin designed to turn Dreamweaver pages into WordPress pages and posts to work, so I’ve spent untold hours over the past fortnight, particularly over this past week’s spring break, copying and pasting each of the 158 pages I’ve deemed worthy to make the trip to slow reads’s new WordPress digs.

But once through each page wasn’t enough.  After copying and pasting them, I worked on each page four more times, once to assign each page one of several forms of secondary navigation (the navigation choices just below the masthead), once to assign each page one of several sidebars, once to re-link the images I decoupled from many of the pages when I changed permalink settings on them all, and once to create redirects from the old version of each page to its new version.

So I’ve seen a lot of my old writing (and the sixteen pages on this site written by my friends) over the past fortnight.  I also wandered a few times into the comment fields that I was happy to find I could usually copy and paste from Echo into WordPress’s pages.  It made me grateful again for blogging and for the friendships and support we’ve formed around one another’s writing.

November 3, 2012 update: In order to have all shots of my blog versions in one post, I’m including them now. Here’s version 5 toward its end:

And here’s version 6:

May 12, 2013 update: here’s version 7:

3PictureSlowReads70screenshot

August 13, 2013 update: version 7 didn’t last long. Here’s version 8:

3PictureSlowReadsVersion8Screenshot

Marginal

On Faster Writing.  When you publish a blog post, you just hit “Publish,” right?  Not me.

For the past five years, each time I posted I’ve taken steps you probably take for granted: 1. I copied, pasted, and updated a snippet of Echo’s JavaScript to give my post a comment field. 2. I copied and pasted the post’s text, including this comment code, from its own page to my blog’s main page.  3.  I typed out and hyperlinked “Link to just this post,” allowing visitors to my home page a way to get to a single page they could link to. 4.  I uploaded these two pages in Dreamweaver.  5.  I visited my new page with a browser and copied and pasted its contents to FeedForAll.  6.  I formatted the page’s feed in FeedForAll and saved it there.  7.  I went back to Dreamweaver and uploaded my updated feed.  8.  If I wanted to keep the post for posterity, I updated the Accordion Panel Magic plugin navigation bar in my template’s left sidebar with a link to the post under the proper subject.  9.  I applied the template changes to all of my files.  10.  I reloaded all of my updated files in Dreamweaver onto my remote server.  (Granted, under my new arrangement, I still have to update a menu with the link to the new post if I want to emphasize it in relative perpetuity.  But it’s one step instead of steps 8 through 10 above.)

All for a blog that organizes my pages the way I want!  When I looked around at WordPress themes recently, though, I found themes that did most of what I was doing by hand each post.  So, after five years, I’ve rediscovered push-button publishing.  Eliminate seven steps by clicking “Publish.” What a concept!

Slow reading & faster writing

Over the past seven years, blogging has become my writing’s late stages.  I’ve discovered that most of my writing starts in my journal or in the margins of my books.  When I work on them some, they became blog posts.  When I like the posts over time, they became my blog’s permanent pages.  So my blog has grown into a kind of museum, and I recently found myself hating it.

I value my blog’s portfolio aspect — its emphasis on showcasing static pages.  I don’t like most blog archives because no care is normally taken to select which old posts stay on a blog site or which of the survivors get emphasized.  Under most blogging platforms, everything ever written is archived and given equal weight.  It’s not for me.  I want my blog to showcase the best I’ve posted there, and I want the rest gone.

So portfolios showcase.  But as I’ve studied portfolios as part of a school district committee this year, my understanding of a portfolio’s potential has grown.  A writer’s portfolio helps her collect and then select her work, but it also helps her reflect on her writing.  She can demonstrate to herself and to others her evolving writing process and the burden each stage takes on in carrying a piece to maturity.  She can have places to show her sloppiest work, sometimes her most creative work.

That’s what I want to starting doing again here.  I want my blogging to share some of the fun I’ve had in my journal over the past year or so.  I have to risk being faster and less polished.  Using Sideblog, a smart WordPress widget Dave Bonta turned me on to recently, I’ve started Marginal, which is a somewhat separate blog in the margin of my main blog.  I hope to replicate the sense of spontaneity and discovery I find when writing in the margins of the books I read.  (I’ve decided to have my site’s RSS feed incorporates Marginal posts, for better or worse.)

I’ve also deliberately made my blog’s new design busier and less clean — less stately, I guess — than the design I’ve used for the past three years.  I did that for the same reasons, principally — to get my early writing stages online, and to make blogging fun for me again.

I’ve also switched to a blogging platform for the first time in order to automate the laborious steps I had to take each time I wanted to post something on my handmade blog.  I’ve also replaced my old “passages” digests of my friends’ best blog posts with an RSS feed of my blogroll members’ posts.  That should save time, too, and keep the column from getting stale.