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Nothing like tackling some rewriting projects to make you realize a few things…

July 12, 2018, 4:00 PM

You know, there’s nothing like undertaking a rewriting project to make you realize that you’re a much better writer than you used to be, and also that fluff for the purpose of filling space isn’t helping anyone.  For several years, I’ve had a list of pages that I want to redo, and recently, I finally started knocking a few of them out.  I’ve already completed the new About Me page, and the main page for Odds and Ends also got a rewrite.  Cars and Quote Archives were substantially reworked recently, though those pages were not full rewrites from scratch.  Then I’m also planning on doing full rewrites on the main pages for Archives, Life and Times, and Photography, as the writing on all of those pages is at least a decade old, likely dating back to the 2003 or 2004 redesign.  The photos on those introduction pages were last changed in 2012, when I converted the site to WordPress (six years ago!).

If the two completed rewrites are any indication, this will be a beneficial and much needed upgrade.  The new About Me page replaced a page that was written in 2007 during a site conversion that left the reader with the impression of a person that I no longer am.  The new page corrects that, reflecting new perspectives on things.  The new version also intermingles the history of the website with my own personal history, acknowledging that I’ve had the website for the majority of my life, and that as such, our histories are very much intertwined.  I’ve also linked to different Journal entries and pages throughout, with the idea of providing an overview while not trying to reinvent the wheel by duplicating material that I have already discussed in detail elsewhere on the site.

Then the Odds and Ends rewrite was extremely straightforward, replacing a longer three-paragraph page with a single paragraph.  There’s not much to say about what is essentially a “miscellaneous” section, and the new writing reflects that.  It’s not quite “here it is”, but it avoids droning on for paragraphs just to fill space in order to make the page appear full.  It’s not afraid to be succinct, and to be shorter than the section menu to its right.  I suppose that the new Odds and Ends page’s having blank space beneath while the sidebar continues downward is a flaw in the current site design, but I’m willing to tolerate that for now.  The current site design is nearly six years old at this point, and the site as a whole could probably benefit from a redesign, but one thing at a time.

That idea of making a page appear full is, ultimately, what I’m working to eradicate.  In the era before social media, more specifically defined by when I joined Facebook in the summer of 2007, I tended to use Schumin Web for something more like what we use social media for today.  Journal entries and such were relatively short, and, with my still being relatively fresh out of college, I was accustomed to writing things to meet an arbitrarily defined length requirement, and then fluffing it out if I had said everything that I needed to say but didn’t hit the length requirement, i.e. writing to fill space.  These pages fit that definition.  There wasn’t a whole lot to say, but I felt that I needed the pages to meet some idea of “fullness”.

The quote articles that ran on the main page from 1998-2005 evolved to become like that.  Originally, those articles were text-only, and around a paragraph in length.  They later got longer, and some sort of image, typically a photo, became standard.  With that came the idea of making the articles self-contained, i.e. the text should be long enough to cover the space around the image, so that it won’t dip down into and disrupt any content beneath it.  So if there wasn’t enough to say to cover the image, I wrote fluff to fill it.  Visual needs over strong content.  In hindsight, it’s not surprising that the quote article eventually withered with the introduction of the Journal, because the latter didn’t have that layout that required fluff, and thus was easier to write.

Meanwhile, some of the fluff that I’m about to obliterate is pretty fluffy.  From the Archives main page:

Many will tell you that history has a way of repeating itself.  And many will point this out as the reason that we need to understand history.  Here in the Archives, this is the vault containing the site’s history, laid out before you.  This is where we have been.  If this is your first time visiting The Schumin Web, the Archives section is almost like an orientation to that which is the world of Ben Schumin.  For regular visitors to this site, this is like a fond look back at what we’ve been through together.

From the Life and Times main page:

In Life and Times, come with me as I travel to places with family, with friends, and by myself.  Come with me as we see what’s going on in my life at home.  See what kind of random stuff I encounter in the process of going about things.  Hear my on-the-spot commentary through movie clips.  As you will see, I really do have fun in my life, and never know what’s around the corner.

Talk about useless fluff that no one needs to ever read.  You need to go through “orientation” to understand the site?  Seriously?  I also discuss formats and layouts, and in the Life and Times page, I discuss a categorization of three older photo sets that I eliminated during the WordPress conversion (the categorization, not the sets).  Then Archives does this graceless dip below the text container:

Yuck.

In a word: yuck.  I’m also pretty sure that defeats the purpose of having all of that fluffy text in the first place, as the intent of that nonsense was to fill space, and it doesn’t even fill it. I’m pretty sure that this page layout has survived several site redesigns (Internet Archive shows an early version of the text for that page back in 2005), and hasn’t aged very well.  I’m not entirely sure what I want to do in new introductory pages, but I imagine that it will be a lot less text than this, and more photography.

Then there was the “Welcome!” page.  That was a page that I could eliminate, and nothing of value would be lost.  So I did.  Especially so when you consider that I changed the site sections around about three years ago, and never bothered to revise this page to reflect said change.  I think that the site’s navigation is pretty self-explanatory, and requires no explicit explanation.  Back then, I felt it necessary to explain these things, and like so much old introductory text on here, its time has most certainly passed.

Reading this old text is when I understand why some people used to make fun of my site on the Internet.  The writing wasn’t as good as it is now, and while I’m certainly not perfect, the difference in writing quality is noticeable.  A lot more thought goes into things now, and while I produce a lower number of individual posts than I used to, the content is much better.

It’s also why I say that the best way to become proficient in writing is just to write.  It doesn’t matter what it’s about.  Just write.  School always had a way of sucking the fun out of writing.  There was no enjoyment in writing about something that I had no interest in whatsoever.  I especially resented the way my English classes in 11th and 12th grade required that all of our alleged “freewrites” be based on the literature that we were reading.  I had no interest in the literature that we were reading, especially since we were expected to read the stuff at such a rapid pace that nothing sank in.  In 12th grade especially, I didn’t give a rat’s patootie about the literature.  Writing uninspired poems and submitting them for grades was not a good way to build writing skills.  Same for college.  I didn’t grow much as a writer while churning out a bunch of boring papers on topics that I had no interest in.  Once I got out of school and started writing regularly for Schumin Web, things got better.  Slowly but surely, it improved.  Writing was fun.  Like anything, if you do it a lot and have some passion for it, you get a lot better at it.  Writing about fire alarms or transit is enjoyable.  Writing answers to inane questions to verify that you actually read something is not fun.

In any case, this sort of cleanup work is long overdue, and I’m excited to make good progress on it.

Categories: Schumin Web meta