Interview with a Writer: Keidra Chaney


This week, we’re featuring Keidra Chaney, a writer, editor, instructor, and digital strategist. She’s making waves on the Chicago literary scene as the co-founder of thelearnedfangirl.coma blog focused on the geekier side of pop culture, fandom, and online community. 

She’s currently a contributing editor for JSTOR Daily. She writes about technology and pop culture (mostly music and film). She’s been published in Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out Chicago, ALARM Magazine, and New City. She teaches regularly at Mediabistro and taught one of the first courses of its kind in analytics at Northwestern University

How did you start blogging? 

I had a personal website for essays back in 1999 that I built myself, called “Adventures in Online Narcissism” This was pre-blogging. Then a year later I started a blog, though at the time I thought it was a lazy alternative to building a website. In the early days of blogging you were just kind of writing into the void and you never knew who was reading, you didn’t write to build audience in the way we do now. I met so many close friends through my early blog and I really refined my essay writing voice from writing unfocused, unstructured blog posts daily. It didn’t feel like work. Now I think there’s so much focus on promotion and writing for SEO that it’s really easy to just write crap and spend the rest of the time promoting that crap. But I still love blogging, at it’s best it’s a way to get writing into the world without a gatekeeper, and I’ve seen how it can elevate the profile of talented writers who may not get through the doors of publishing in traditional ways.


How do you manage the wide range of your professional interests?

Interestingly, for me it doesn’t feel like a balance, or something that I have to structure my day for because it’s all so connected. My work in technology is what I do all day. Blogging is my preferred writing medium, and blogging and tech are what I teach about so I don’t feel like I have to divide my brain or time for each. What I learn on the job each day I bring to class when I teach. Insights from teaching help me do my job better. It’s symbiotic. I do find that I need to just unplug. I have to step away from technology completely to reset my brain. I have music for that. And cooking.


Best piece of advice you could give?

Diversify and be specific in your goals. To make money from just writing alone is HARD, there’s not a lot of opportunities to just write, so if you are good at editing, photography, video, podcasting, any other storytelling media, that is helpful, especially in a multimedia environment. But also, I think having a focus or niche is attractive too. If you are a talented humorist, or travel writer or food writer. Knowing that and making an effort to be known for a speciality opens doors in a digital focused publishing environment.


Best piece of advice you ever received?

So when I went to UW-Madison for journalism, one of my instructors was the journalist Deborah Blum (check her out, she is a brilliant science writer) said to us “most of you are never going to have a full time job in journalism, most of you will be freelancers” She didn’t say that to be discouraging, she said it to prepare us for the realities of the journalism job market. So our class was focused on how to write pitch letters and create relationships with editors. It was SO valuable for me. Teaching me how to hustle changed my writing life and I will always be grateful.


What current Chicago writer excites you the most?

I’m a HUGE fan of Samantha Irby, she has a kind of fearless humor in her non-fiction writing that I wish I had the guts to do. I am also a fan of Ben Tanzer, he’s been a friend for a while, and he has a very lyrical fiction writing style.


With African-American History Month coming up, what book do you recommend we pick up to celebrate?

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson is an epic work of historical literature about the Great Migration and a must-read for Chicagoans, since much of the action is based in Chicago. It’s a book that resonates with me because it’s essentially my grandmother’s story, but it’s compellingly written mix of sociology and biographical profile.


Check back in the coming weeks to see what Chicago writer we feature next! In the meantime, you can stay up-to-date with all of our latest events, posts, and readings by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or subscribing to our newsletter. Happy Writing!