Reading More Than You Write In The Age of Hot Takes

by Keidra Chaney

It’s been an overwhelming publishing cycle over in Hot Take City. I’ve read two book anthologies worth of Beyonce “Formation” think pieces and the video is not even a week old yet.

On a semi-related note, I’ve been a part of three different conversations with burned out pop culture writers who are growing weary of having to generate daily think pieces the minute a new pop culture trend or meme surfaces, and wonder how long they can – or should – attempt to do this for a living. When your career is based around providing immediate and provocative reactions to the news of the moment, and in the entertainment world “the news of the moment” happens a couple of times an hour, how does one keep it up? Or can/should you, considering pop culture writing has increasingly become a “profession” that pays too little to support people?

I don’t really have an answer to this because I kind of opted out of this world before it really started. I am a slow hot-taker, to the detriment of my pop culture writing career. So with that, I stopped doing freelance online pop culture writing several years ago, with the exception of what I write for The Learned Fangirl, which only publishes a couple of times a week. When I reviewed music more often, I would sometimes write a review after hearing the album over the space of a weekend, which SUCKED for me as a critic, because my first impressions of music are often not my lasting ones. So I burned out of that quickly.

I don’t regret scaling back on professional pop culture writing though, even in this arguable “golden age.” At TLF we often say that we “chase the long tail” and publish writing that tends to have a longer shelf life, rather than goes viral quickly. Which of course is a shitty model for contemporary digital publishing revenue, but so be it. But as someone who has always felt more comfortable reading more about a subject before I write about it with confidence keeping TLF open as a space where I (or anyone else) can do “slow takes” is important to me. Hell, I’m not even fully convinced this essay is appropriate here.

But it’s hard to do. The idea of “reading more than you write” is tough to keep up with in an age where if you don’t have a response a couple of hours in, you’re late. I know I am guilty of expecting this, too. We are in a publishing environment that expects instant information, and in an age where fact-checking and researching primary sources is seen as a luxury that can’t be afforded, in the name of staying current.

These days, as digital critics, we are so rarely afforded extra time to research or refine our thoughts we often don’t know what to do with the opportunity. And though “read more than you write” is supposedly the Golden Rule for writers, how many of us do it, can do it, a content-hungry environment that devours 24/7 and rewards strongly argued opinions over well-researched ones?

Saying “Hey, I want to sit on this piece and do more research” or “I don’t want to publish this just yet” to an editor can be a career killer in some cases. So I dunno. I do my best to carve out space for myself to be a slow-burn writer, but I’m sure it’s at a cost, and it’s clear that many of us as writers struggle with it.

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