Justin Tadlock

Life after WordPress

It’s been three months since I made the switch from WordPress to a custom system for my blog. This was one of the toughest and scariest changes I’ve made in the 15+ years I’ve been running this site. What if I break things? What if I’ve wasted all this time for nothing? What if the WP community that I’m very much a part of views this decision as a betrayal of sorts?

I’m happy to report that I’m in a better place now.

For the vast majority of the years I’ve been blogging, I relied on WordPress to always be there and working. It held onto memories from nearly half of my life, like old journals packed into a cardboard box in the back of the closet.

In many ways, I was too reliant on it. WordPress was a drug that I no longer enjoyed but kept using because I depended on it. I believe stepping away has made me a better blogger and a better developer.

More blogging

I’ve written 31 posts since the changeover, more than I’d written in the prior three years altogether. I could’ve certainly been a more prolific blogger on WordPress or any platform. However, I needed that extra push, that rush of excitement with something new, something that got down to the roots of what it is to blog, to force me back into a habit of writing.

Completing National Novel Writing Month in November certainly helped me write more. During that time, I was pushing out nearly 2,000 words every day. More than anything, that challenge helped me focus on the task at hand while tuning out distractions.

Mostly, I wanted to write more. I needed an outlet for my thoughts. And, WordPress wasn’t that for me.

I’ve been writing in a Markdown editor for several years now (currently Atom). Even my first blog posts ever written were in Notepad for Windows and uploaded to a basic HTML site. I’ve never taken to visual editors or even programs like Microsoft Office. Even while typing, I wanted an experience that’s as close to pen and paper as I can get.

Removing WordPress from the equation has been like taking out the middleman. In the past, I’d write a post, copy/paste it into WordPress, edit any metadata, and publish. Now, I write and edit metadata in a single file. Then, I simply upload and the post is available to the world.

The publishing process is less of a chore for me, which has helped me focus more on the writing aspect.

Faster page loads

My Web site is actually pretty fast, much faster than before. I think most pages on the site now get an “A” performance grade from Pingdom. And, that’s on a cheap hosting package.

In the past, it was a constant battle to disable useless stuff that WordPress adds. Emoji images come to mind (especially when nearly all of my users can see these 🤪 symbols natively). And, I know the new Gutenberg editor auto-adds a big stylesheet on the front end. Not to mention, I’d have to disable stuff from plugins. At a certain point, disabling things became tiring.

Everything on the site is now something that I personally chose to add. Any performance issues are generally of my own making.

With a faster Web site, I don’t have to worry quite as much about adding a large image for fun once in a while. It’s not having to compete with too many other resources. If anything’s slowing me down, it’s Google Analytics, which I begrudgingly kept for the time being.

Admittedly, most of the speed issues could’ve been solved while still using WordPress. However, working from a blank slate rather than having to “fix” things within an existing system has made the process much easier.

Growing as a developer

One of the things that makes WordPress so great is the vast wealth of knowledge freely available on the Web. If you need to figure out how to do something, chances are that someone had the same need first and shared the solution.

When you step into the world of building a custom platform for your Web site, it can feel a bit like trekking through the great unknown. What I’ve learned is that it’s not so scary. The WordPress community is vast, but the overall PHP community is much larger. While I have relied on my own skillset to solve new problems, I’ve been able to lean on the untold numbers of those who’ve come before me.

There’s a certain romanticism to taking this journey. I’ve fallen in love with PHP coding once again, after a string of years where our relationship suffered some bumps and bruises. As a developer, it’s important to broaden my skillset beyond simply writing code for WordPress. And, it’s important to bring what I’ve learned back into my plugin and theme work.

What I miss

My favorite WordPress feature is the ability to quickly drag and drop an image into a post. Even while I wrote blog posts in the past in Markdown, I always used the WordPress media feature to add in my images. WordPress has fairly robust media handling.

However, I quickly adapted. Truth be told, Markdown syntax handles 99% of my image needs. It’s the missing WordPress [gallery] shortcode that will likely give me a headache the next time I want to roll out a gallery. I’m not sure how I’ll handle that in the future, but I don’t post a lot of galleries either.

The second feature that held me back for so long was having a native commenting system. I still feel strongly about my reasons for disabling comments. But, some days, it was nice to strike up a discussion with someone over a post that I wrote. I’m having a few withdrawal symptoms, but I still feel like it was the best decision.

The third and final thing I miss is the ability to quickly fix a mistake I notice when browsing the site on my phone. Because I’ve yet to build an admin interface, opting to do everything offline, I must be on my computer to make quick changes. It’s a minor annoyance once in a while but not enough to get me to build out an admin interface.

What’s in store for the future

I don’t see myself going back anytime soon. I’m having fun and am enjoying the current platform that I’m building.

If anything, I might continue fleshing out the code so that it can be used by others. I’m not in a hurry to do that, but I suspect I’ll turn the project into a public repository at some point this year. Maybe others can build something cool on top of it (I’d really love to see a Vue.js-based admin interface, for example).

I’ll also continue bringing techniques that I learn along the way into my WordPress plugin and theme projects at Theme Hybrid. I’m excited about one of the plugins that I’m working on and am eager to make it public.