7 For Seven: 7 Questions For ... Brittany Spanos
"I have learned that being kind to myself is more helpful than putting restrictions on joy when I’m on deadline."
thank u, Brittany and these stock photos of Bart and someone else
Every second and fourth Friday of the month, Brady Gerber’s “7 For Seven” interviews writers talking about writing. This week’s guest is Brittany Spanos. Brittany is a senior writer for Rolling Stone where she covers pop music and teen culture. Her favorite genre of music is boy band. And Brittany wants you to … consider donating to organizations that support Black lives, such as the Loveland Foundation (therapy fund for Black girls and women) and the Okra Project (meals cooked for Black trans people in need by Black trans chefs). Read this interview on your browser.
Tell us: What (all) do you do? Bonus points if you show us how you got to where you are today.
After watching Almost Famous when I was 12, I told myself and everyone I knew that I would be a writer for Rolling Stone, and that’s what I do! Which is cool! I was pretty focused on this goal for exactly one decade straight: I wrote about music for my junior high and high school papers that no one read, blogged on my LiveJournal, MySpace, and Tumblr about my favorite songs and eventually majored in pop culture journalism at NYU. I interned at Allure and the Village Voice before eventually getting a full-time job as Clubs Editor at the Voice. I started freelancing for Rolling Stone the summer after I graduated from college and applied for an entry-level job when I was laid off from VV that fall. I started January 2015, when I was 22, and have since worked my way up from online producer (basically edit assistant for the website) to senior writer, with four cover stories under my belt.
As for what I do, I cover pop music and have helped shape what our pop coverage looks like over the last five years. My job has always been pretty varied, though I’ve been more focused on interviews and reported profiles the last year or so. I kind of write a mix of everything? Love 2 blog!
Walk us through a typical day.
With or without an ongoing pandemic, my days usually begin with at least an hour of laying in bed motionless, listening to whatever matches the day’s mood while scrolling through social media in desperate search of some morning memes. At some point, I get up, answer e-mails, make a list of things I need to do that day, and eventually make my way to the kitchen for a smoothie and some coffee.
I usually try to check in with my bosses early in the day or with the appropriate editor of whatever story I’m working on. I wish I had a more scheduled way of looking at my day, but the work I do is prioritized on a case by case basis that is then shifted around whatever Zoom meetings I have or interviews. I break for lunch and usually take another break to do one of the many YouTube workouts I have become emotionally dependent on. I try to wrap by 7 pm each day so I can eat dinner, have a glass of wine, and watch a movie. Since March, watching random movies either alone or virtually timed with friends has been a major solace, especially with the added bonus of a Letterboxd account that I have loved updating as a form of very low-impact writing exercise. Nowadays, I’m usually asleep by 10 pm unless my group chats are popping.
Describe more about how you work; how do you do what you do?
God, I wish I were the type of person who has a process but I very much do not. I try to stay as organized as possible, tracking the progress of different stories and trying to manage when and how I work on them as best I can but everything changes so quickly. There are times where I can produce things very fast and there are times where it takes me longer than usual to finish a story. I find the process of motivating myself to form words hard sometimes, especially since I am working from home all the time now, but I have gotten better at pulling myself out of writing funks as I have gotten older.
What’s your trick for when you’re feeling stuck?
I try to give myself a little treat when I’m stuck!! I have learned that being kind to myself is more helpful than putting restrictions on joy when I’m on deadline. While working from home, my usual go-to treats are a Yoga With Adriene flow, cooking/baking, watching one of those Vogue Beauty Secrets YouTube videos. One of the most extreme examples happened when I was freaking out about the first draft of my Lizzo cover story: the story didn’t feel like it was coming together so I left to get a Friday the 13th tattoo with my friends, came back and started over. Sometimes you just need to step away!
List some of your notable influences, past and present: writers, books, works of art, Zoom dance parties, anything and anyone that has inspired you. Also: The best article you read recently?
Rob Sheffield, Jenny Eliscu, Chuck Klosterman, and Jancee Dunn are the Big Four when it comes to writing. When I say that all I did as a teen was read RS and SPIN I really do mean that. Love Is a Mixtape and Killing Yourself to Live were formative books for me, as a kid who didn't realize nonfiction books could be that beautiful, heart-wrenching, or fun. These days I’m very inspired by cheesy turns of phrase in songs and movies, the endless stream of roasts/horny thoughts in my group chats, stan twitter revolutionaries, the earnestness of 2010-2014 Peak Tumblr, photos of Bianca Jagger and Donna Summer, Betty Davis’ growl, Zoom dance parties, finding the perfect songs to walk to and my thriving collection of plants.
Brittany is a legend. Like, the legend. This interview is possible because of subscribers. Thank you for following! Other ways you can support this newsletter: Tip for coffee (so I have fuel to edit everything) and share this dang thing. But the most helpful thing you can do is:
Advice time: What’s a piece of wisdom that you wish you first heard when you were starting out?
I wish I had been told that branding is not everything, but I came up as a writer in a time when branding was everything. I spent a lot of time comparing my success to the clout of others but that matters so much less to me now. I just want to write stories that sit in people’s memories. I care less about being a name-brand writer than I did when I was 21 and wanted people to really see me.
“Art”: What the heck is it?
BONUS: Cats or dogs?
I’m super allergic to cats so I default to dogs. I’m an aspiring dog owner and want a grumpy bulldog named Bart!!!!
BONUS BONUS: Pick a piece of writing that you're proud of and walk us through how it was done: How you got the idea, how you confirmed it was going to happen, drafting the piece, editing it, and publishing it?
One of my absolute favorite pieces that I have written was a deep dive into “Silver Springs” by Fleetwood Mac. I talk about Stevie Nicks and FM *a lot* in my personal and professional life, and one day I made fellow FM stan and RS music editor Hank Shteamer watch the “Silver Springs” performance from The Dance, Fleetwood Mac’s 1997 concert documentary. It’s a really intense video, where Stevie and Lindsey stare down each other during this emotional ballad about their break-up from 20 years prior. Hank told me I should maybe write a piece, and the 20th anniversary of The Dance happened to be coming up that August. I spent months researching the piece, pulling interviews, and performance videos. I reached out to as many people as I could for the story and ended up interviewing Rumours co-producer Ken Caillat, The Dance’s director Bruce Gowers, Courtney Love, Tori Amos, Tavi Gevinson and the concert film’s producer and engineer Elliot Scheiner for the story. We went through a few drafts of the story to get it right, especially since the song itself has had so many distinct lives. It was fun to piece together, and I now take personal credit for the current “Silver Springs” revival.
Photo credit: Brittany Spanos