Probably the easiest way to “learn” WordPress!
Want to really “learn” WordPress, easily and without a lot of effort? Well, it’s going to seem like it anyway. Because here’s a WordPress “project” idea for you, one that’ll turn WordPress from just something you need to know, to something you’ll really want to know and use.
And believe me, that makes all the difference in the world. Have fun!
Here’s something I know after decades of using and even teaching computers: One of the best and quickest ways to really learn how to use any software is to actually use the darned thing, and repeatedly. Not just play around with it, but actually use it. For an actual task, project, etc., of yours. And use it over and over again.
Structured courses, guides, manuals, tutorials, videos, etc., they help, of course, but until you get your hands on the actual software, literally doing stuff with it, the “theory” all that educational material tries to impart pretty much stays in theory land. Temporarily too, since you’re likely to lose that theory without actual “practice” to nail it to your psyche. It’s like driving a car. You can learn all the theory you want, but until you get behind the wheel and start driving, none of that theory really sticks. The actual driving and real world experience, in fact, that’s where the real learning and retention happens. Likely a whole bunch of imagination and creative problem solving thrown into the mix as well. So, if you think about it, the “practice” is actually what’s really teaching you.
Learning WordPress is no different. If you need it, get a quick overview of the very basics using whatever educational method you’re comfortable with… then dive right in and start doing! That’s how you really “learn” WordPress.
There’s a couple of problems with that, though, isn’t there? First, what if you screw things up majorly? Then the site and/or blog you’ve got running on WordPress — the one your visitors, prospects, readers, etc., use and interact with — is going to be compromised at best, or broken and useless until you manage to get it back up and working properly again. (Here we’re pretending there’s already a WordPress site up and running that can be damaged; just go with it.)
Very true. But then again, I didn’t say use your main WordPress site for this idea you’ll be reading about here, did I?
And the second problem: What will you be doing? It has to be something that you actually need and/or want to do. Something beneficial and actually related to, well, your actual work. Something that won’t be in the realm of the mere training simulation. Something real, meaningful, useful, and likely repetitive.
Hmm, now what could that be? Proceed to the next solution for the project idea!
Well, considering what this site is, it’s safe to assume that I think you’re an author. Which makes you a writer, researcher, planner… and all those other good roles that come with wearing the kind of hat that brings you to this site. And what do authors do? You take and keep notes. Lots of them.
Use WordPress as an online notebook. A private one for your own use. Because why the heck not?
Just in case you’re so new to WordPress and you didn’t know: You can turn a WordPress site into something totally private. As in nobody but you can see any of the posts, pages, and other content you add to it. All yours, and just yours.
And what better way to learn WordPress than by actually using it without worrying at all what it looks to the public… they can’t see it!
Here’s the basic plan for setting up WordPress as your own private notebook:
- Create and install a new WordPress site, separate from your main one.
- Make it private.
- Use it.
That’s really all there is to the concept.
Some of you (you know who you are) will be able to take just the above simple outline and run with it. You’re probably itching to go right now. In which case, get to it. Have fun! I don’t think there’ll be much else here in this little section of the site that will be of much help, since you likely can figure things out on your own. Besides, you can always come back if you need to. So, enjoy!
The rest of you who are less assured of your tech skills and knowledge, let’s see if I can give you enough of the info you may be looking for to go ahead and try it.
It has a very high chance of working for this reason: You not only need to do it, but you want to do it. There’s a very real benefit for you that you want. So you’ll do whatever it takes to do it. On your own.
Like read through my notes here to get some how-to tips. Or Google specific tasks you may be stuck on. Tap online help and resources available to you. Etc., etc. etc.
And since you want it, you’re very likely going to go ahead and actually try it out.
That you’ll be “learning WordPress” while you’re at it, well, that’s a bonus isn’t it? Even though that’s the point of the exercise on paper.
Compare that to what the previous perceived “need” to learn WordPress was probably like: “I need to build and run a site on WordPress to help with book marketing. They say I need to blog, so I’ll need to learn how to do that. Some say I even need Web hosting. I don’t really fully understand what all that means, but I guess I can learn. I don’t even know much about WordPress and what WordPress can do, but I guess I’ll have to start learning all that and do this right. When I get a chance or when I’m ready, for sure. That’s on my TO DO list.”
It’s a gosh-darned chore, that’s what that is.
Now, there’s an appealing benefit for you. and no one else but you. I think that greatly increases the chances of it actually happening now.
As far as Critical Success Factors (CSF’s) go, that’s probably the biggest. Just throwing out some old school business/marketing jargon at you; may as well pick up and learn those as we go along.
There are other supporting factors too, of course, that really help increase the likelihood of “project” success. We won’t slog through all of them, but I’ll just bring this one up: the privacy thing. It makes it a “safe” exercise. No one can see it, no one else really knows you’re doing it, except for you. You muck things up, no one else really cares; hard to care about something one doesn’t even know exists. This all makes a heck of a difference on one’s willingness to try things out.
You want it, and it’s safe. That’s one compelling, irresistible mix right there, isn’t it?
To add, edit and manage your own notes, you’ll inevitably be teaching yourself how to:
- Add/edit WordPress posts. Pages too.
- Work with categories and tags to keep your notes organized.
These are so basic, I’m sure many of us WordPress veterans consider this duh-level stuff. But if you think about it, to you (a novice), figuring out how to do these will in turn lead to you actually doing them regularly, which is pretty much what writing notes is all about. This, however, also means you are in effect becoming…
- Familiar and comfortable with the WordPress working environment (menus, screens, where things are, etc.).
- Learning the WordPress editor and its various editing features, which really isn’t all that different from many other editors you already have used.
These are actually pretty big steps, and you’ll be doing them all on your own! No pressure, either. Just you using software to write your own notes.
As you reach a good WordPress “comfort zone,” so to speak, and that’ll likely happen much sooner than later, you’ll probably start looking into tweaking things, customizing your online notebook, like:
- Formatting your “notes” a certain way.
- Changing the default home page and make it display content (again, your “notes”) for browsing in ways you prefer.
- Playing around with the menus.
- Playing around with the widgets.
- Changing the Permalink structure.
That sort of thing. You’ll most likely even start perusing and trying out different themes, change the way your site looks, feels and operates. And you’ll have your own ideas on added features and functionality you may want to have for your online notebook, which will lead you to trying out and playing around with plugins to help with your work.
And so on and so forth. See how that works for your WordPress learning? And that’s just off the top of my head. Knowledge and know-how just keep building on top of each other as you actually purposely experience WordPress regularly. And all of your own volition. Cool, huh?
Just a few additional benefits you may not be aware of that I’d like to point out, for the record:
- Your online WordPress notebook will be accessible anywhere you’ve got an Internet connection. It’s now “on the cloud.” Depending on where you are and Internet services available to you, maybe you won’t need to carry that physical notebook around with you all the time anymore. Personally, I still carry a paper notebook around with me in my bag (I love them; pens too!), but in many environments I usually find myself in, I really don’t have to if I don’t want to!
- You may actually find yourself enjoying the experience of writing on WordPress. So much so that you could turn WordPress into a tool for serious writing and writing project management. Not unheard of, frankly. I know a few authors and writers who do their serious writing on WordPress, with their work always accessible to them wherever there’s an Internet connection.
- Your online notebook WordPress site can double as a prototype/testing site as well, to privately try out themes and plugins in particular before you risk implementing any of them on your main WordPress site.
How-To Overview + Tips
For this “project,” you’ll want to start with a new WordPress site, a separate one from any existing one you may have already running and used by the public.
Although it is absolutely correct that you can do something somewhat like this on an existing, publicly-accessible WordPress site — if you already have an author website on WordPress, for instance, you could simply make all your notes private and assign it to something like a Notebook category — but that’s only if all you want a private notebook. I want you to learn and get super comfy with WordPress while you’re at it. As much of WordPress as you can get your hands on and play with.
The facts are WordPress software is free, storage is dirt cheap, any other resources you need either you already have or can get for free. For goodness’ sake, just create a brand new site and be done with it.
Being able to set up a new, separate WordPress site along with your existing one will, of course, depend mainly on the kind of Web hosting package you got. These “packages” differ from company to company, so there’s no way for me to tell you exactly what you can and can’t do. But I can observe and have experience, so I can give you some general guidance on what to look for and what to expect, especially if you’ve gone with one of the larger, more mainstream, national Web hosting providers (as opposed to a smaller local or regional operation).
Any issues with creating new, separate WordPress installations will likely be with the cheapest “introductory”-type packages. Providers understandably impose a lot of limits and restrictions with those accounts, delivering just the bare minimum required by customers who get that hosting. Restrictions like being allowed only one domain for that hosting package, and ergo only one site, not being allowed to create and use subdomains, etc.
Subdomains, FYI, although technically still running under that same main domain, are really independent sites in practice, with URLs that look something like:
You may be wondering, what’s the big deal? Doesn’t a single website only need a single domain name? Yes, but when you realize that for only an extra buck or two more a month that typically buys the next level up package, on many of the mainstream Web hosting providers, that fairly tiny increase buys a significant jump up in features and capabilities. Besides being able to create and use subdomains (where you can build sites on each), you can add more domains and build separate sites for each, all running on that single Web hosting account, no extra charge! (Except for the cost of the domains, of course, but that’s always on you.) If you have that level of Web hosting package (go check), then you’re all set.
But if you do have the lowest, cheapest kind of Web hosting package with a one domain name limitation, using that account for your WordPress notebook site may be off the table, unless you upgrade the account (which you can do, I’m certain of it; ask your provider), or proceed to the If you don’t have Web hosting section below.
But you may still have another option. You’ll have to check. A common and popular feature provided by many Web hosting providers is software called a control panel.
Each one of these Web hosting packages with the mainstream providers (and many others too, it’s that common and popular) provides a software feature and tool called a control panel. One of the most popular of these is called cPanel. I’ll start using that label here now, but know that when you see cPanel here, I’m referring to all control panels that Web hosting services bundle with their packages.
cPanel provides a graphical, easier-to-use interface to tools and other software for you to manage and maintain all the different aspects of your Web hosting server. One of those really handy “tools” is a “script library” of various useful apps and software it can easily install for you on your Web hosting server. Apps like WordPress! (Note: These script libraries are sometimes called different things, depending on the Web hosting service, including but not limited to “Script Installer,” “Software Installer,” etc. They may even be using commercial script library software; a popular one I see a lot, for example, is named Softaculous. You may see it called that instead on your cPanel.
You have to check your Web hosting package to see how they set up a cPanel for you. This is why I can’t really give you step-by-step instructions for this part of the project. But I can give you a fairly decent generic overview of how these cPanels are usually set up.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. Use the script library feature to easily and quickly install WordPress on your site. It will ask for a few details about this new WordPress installation, one of which will be where on your server you would like to install this copy of WordPress to.
Normally you will want to install WordPress to your main directory (also called the root), so when visitors go to your domain, that’s what they’ll see. But these installers typically also let you install as many different copies of WordPress you want, in this case to subdirectories under your root directory (which are also sometimes referred to as folders). The installer will also usually create the subdirectory for you. If it works, then you’ll have a totally independent, separate WordPress installation (a separate site, if you will) that you can access by simply going directly to:
So whatever you install will still technically be under a single domain. See how that works? Or could work; I’m not sure. That will depend entirely on how your server is set up. Worth a try. So, even if your server is set up to allow only one domain name, and IF you have a WordPress installer, and IF that installer is permitted to install extra copies of WordPress to subdirectories, then you can create multiple WordPress “sites” under that simple, cheap Web hosting account, and you’re good to go!
Unlike a WordPress.com site, there isn’t a easy built-in way to simply “switch” a self-hosted WordPress site to make it private at will. There are a number of ways to go about this, however, and some are exceedingly easy as well… if you know how to download and install plugins into your WordPress environment (which itself is far from difficult to learn and do as well).
So that’s the really easy way: Find, get and install a WordPress plugin that turns your site into a private one, activate it, and voila! Instant private site. There are a number of free plugins out there that do the trick, some needing a bit more configuring than others before use, depending on their features and how they like to do things. Beyond being able to do what you actually want it to do (make your site private!), which one you decide to use just comes down to preference.
I myself have always like simple, and the free plugin I use for this purpose is called Force Login. It’s very small and very simple. In fact, there are no “Settings” for you to fiddle with, so screens or notice boxes to design, unless you want to get your hands dirty with programming code. But you don’t have to; straight out of the box upon activation, it’s job as its name implies is to “force” any site visitors to first login to your WordPress system before they can see anything.
You see, in case you didn’t already know, WordPress already has a built-in user management and authorization system. You know, the part where you enter your administrator password to get into WordPress to make posts, install plugins, etc. Yeah, that part. The thing about that, though, is that it’s naturally out of the way, of course so that regular visitors to your site don’t get bothered by it; they just come and check out your content. What this plugin does, then, is simply force all visitors to that login screen. They need to login first, or they see nothing but that login screen. Since they don’t have accounts to your WordPress dashboard (creating accounts for them is under your control), they then can’t login and ergo see nothing. Private! Simple, clever and cool, huh?
Other similar plugins implement other features, like snazzier login forms and notices and other whiz-bang doodads, etc., but since in this case all I want is to keep a notebook for my own use and private, I don’t really care for anything more than simple.
You most certainly can use WordPress.com to create a private notebook to use and play with. If you already have an account, you can create the site under that (last I checked, they let you create as many free WordPress sites under a single free account). Or if you don’t want to do that for whatever reason, you can even create a totally new, separate account for it.
Do remember that they run a modified version of WordPress, with a different interface, slightly different menus, functions that may operate differently, etc. Customizations that are specific to the WordPress.com way of doing things. But for the most part, it’s still very much look-and-feel like you’re working with — and learning — WordPress!
You also won’t be able to add any themes that aren’t already in its library of available themes for you to use. But you probably won’t need to add more; it already has a darned good theme collection!
The tricky part here is making that site private and inaccessible to everyone but you. Not difficult. I’ve seen their interface change over time, so I can’t be sure these will be the steps you’ll take by the time you get around to it, but the process will be similar.
- From your Dashboard’s menu, click on Settings.
- On the Settings screen, click on the General tab.
- Scroll down to Privacy, and select Hidden.
- Click on the Save Settings button.
That’s all there is to it! You now have a private site on WordPress.com for your notebook. As you can see from the Self-hosted section above, though, this isn’t how you make a regular WordPress installation private. That’s what I mean by differences; you can’t take what you just learned here about creating a private site and do the exact thing on any regular WordPress site. Whether that will be an issue for you and your objectives, I obviously can’t tell you, but best be aware of the subtle differences.
One you’ve got your new WordPress Notebook site up and running, what next? Log in and start playing with it, of course!
Scratch that. The first thing I would do, actually, if you haven’t done it yet, is see what a regular visitor will see if they visit the site. This checks if your site is really private. You can’t just open another tab and enter the URL if you’re currently logged in — what you’ll need to do is open an “incognito window” (in Chrome), or something like “private browsing” on other browsers. Even if on your main browser window you’re all logged in, you won’t be in the incognito window. You’ll be, well, incognito. Enter your WordPress Notebook’s URL. What you’ll see will depend on how you set up privacy, but you’ll probably see a login screen, or some notice saying it’s private, or a “coming soon”-type message. As long as you don’t see some default WordPress blog screen like a regular anonymous visitor would, you’re good to go! Close the incognito window, return to your main browser screen and resume playing with your new WordPress Notebook site!
So, what now? Well, explore and experiment! Just like a kid would who just got their hands on a brand new toy. Check out the menus. See what’s on them. Look all over the screen; read whatever you see. Click on options; see what they do. I think you should be able to figure out how to create a new post just by doing that alone. If you’re feeling nervous or scared to try things… why? You can’t hurt anything. And that’s one of the beautiful things about this approach: You got absolutely nothing to worry about. Not even time. You’re under no time pressure here; it’s your own virtual notebook you’re exploring.
If on the off-chance you manage to screw something up really badly, which is very highly unlikely — in fact, I’d like to hear about it if you manage that and learn what the heck you did, it’s that unusual — just log out of WordPress, go to your cPanel scripts library and uninstall the mucked up site (only a few clicks should do it). Then install a new WordPress site like you did before! Even if you’re on WordPress.com, same thing: delete the broken site, create a new one. Then it’s back to business!
Don’t forget: You can’t hurt anything. Now go explore, play and learn. Have fun!
LAST UPDATED: January 22, 2020