“It feels like I was fated to start wildchild,” I told a friend recently. While I applied for my current full-time position as a copywriter for a local fashion brand towards the end of December in 2019, I was not contacted by the company’s hiring manager due to a pandemic-induced hiring freeze. In March 2020, I was fortunate enough to clinch it when I re-applied. As a result, I always thought of the site as a product of my longer-than-expected period of unemployment as I was certain that if I had been hired immediately, I wouldn’t have committed to running a blog on the side. My friend was doubtful, “Are you sure that you wouldn’t have started it anyway? Maybe you would have found the time to do so even with a job.”
Since I had never considered that perspective before, I took a double take. Upon deeper reflection, however, I realized that it was not the presence of leisure time but the torment of the job search that pushed me to write my first personal essay on navigating unemployment as a young graduate in Singapore. It stemmed from my desperate need for a distraction from moping and submitting applications for non-writing jobs that I didn’t really want. Initially, I was on the fence about whether I should purchase the domain (wildchild.sg) as well as the premium account for WordPress for a year — it was a step that would require and indicate my commitment to the project. I decided to take the plunge after publishing that piece. At that point, I conceded that my chances of being an editorial writer were non-existent because of my academic background and inexperience, and took heart in knowing that I could still hone my skills in the meantime. After all, how could I say that I was passionate about writing if I didn’t take the effort to practise while I had so much time to spare?
After publicizing the article on my socials, I realized that the emotional pay-off was way bigger than what I was accustomed to when I was writing about more trivial matters. Fellow unemployed fresh graduates sent words of encouragement or solidarity my way. Several of my close friends were kind enough to share my article, which sparked conversations within their social circles. A long-lost friend reached out to me and we caught up with each other. Writing had always felt like a one-way street for me, even when I was writing for websites that had larger audiences. It was comforting to have readers responding to my words for the first time, especially after being rejected for several writing positions.
I started toying with the idea of creating a website by young adults in late October 2019, before I was unemployed. I pitched to friends who I thought could cover different topics for the site — book reviews, music, lifestyle, and beauty. However, most of them were busy with school or a full-time job, and I didn’t want to pressure anyone into helping me with a passion project. My writing partner-in-crime, Raphael of Popjuice, told me that I should start it on my own instead of waiting for others to come on board, if I had the capacity and tenacity to do so. Then I realized that while I didn’t have a team of writers, I could still feature a variety of voices and ideas if I branded wildchild as a contributor-based site.
These contributions usually go two ways: the contributor gives me full rein and I am free to make heavy edits if I wish to, or they prefer a more collaborative approach and we bounce ideas off each other until we are satisfied with the final product. Typically, anonymous contributors pick the former because their reputations are not at stake. For the first few months, all the contributors were from my inner circle but as the site grew, I started receiving contributions from strangers, some who are anonymous even to me.
At its conception, I didn’t expect personal essays to be such a prominent fixture on wildchild. I knew I loved the form, I just didn’t know if I had the chops to execute it.
While I didn’t know what I wanted for wildchild, I knew the kind of content that I gravitated towards — pieces that shine a light on our inner worlds or provide cultural commentary. So I filled the site with a slew of money diaries and other logs because I didn’t feel ready to approach anything heavy. At its conception, I didn’t expect personal essays to be such a prominent fixture on wildchild. I knew I loved the form, I just didn’t know if I had the chops to execute it. It’s funny how late to the party I am; Jia Tolentino wrote a piece for The New Yorker titled, “The Personal-Essay Boom Is Over” in 2017. Reading the thoughtful non-fiction on Man Repeller, a now-defunct women’s site based in New York City, made me long for similar pieces in the Singaporean context.
When I finally dabbled in writing personal essays, I realized that it is a way for me to process my thoughts and experiences. It entails an emotional excavation that is similar to writing poetry, except that instead of hiding behind cryptic metaphors, I have to be specific and honest with the reader and myself. When I wrote essays for school (mainly sociological), I always had a clear structure in mind and would draft essay outlines again and again.
With personal essays, I try to keep an open mind and see where it takes me, and almost always glean insights about myself once I’m done. In William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well”, he talks about how writers “think they must earn the right to reveal their emotions and their thoughts” because “we have become […] fearful of revealing who we are”. Coincidentally, the piece of writing advice that I’ve always held close to my heart was something that both (Raphael) Cheong and Zinsser espoused, “You don’t need the right to write.” I always struggled with expressing my opinions and personal writing, along with the site, has made me more comfortable with doing so.
The question that people ask me the most when they find out about the site is, “What is your ultimate goal for wildchild?” If unspoken, another question lurks, “Do you plan to monetize it?” While I don’t have an end-goal for the site, it exists to meet several goals of mine. First, I want to hold myself accountable to the craft — I try to publish an article at least once a week — and having a public space forces me to produce work that I am not ashamed of. Second, as writing is learned largely by imitation, maintaining this site has spurred me to read more widely to find interesting topics as well as pieces that I wanted to emulate. And so the site has led me back to learning, reading and writing consistently, something I sorely missed after leaving formal education. Third, given that I am in full control of my creative output, I am free to experiment with different formats and topics. To squander my best ideas without fearing that I will eventually run out and to trust that it would lead to even better ideas.
The question that people ask me the most when they find out about the site is, “What is your ultimate goal for wildchild?” If unspoken, another question lurks, “Do you plan to monetize it?”
As for monetization, it is an unlikely possibility. There has been substantial discourse about how the ad-based publishing model is unsustainable since it incentivizes clicks and gives advertisers control over the output. While I feature brands occasionally, I do so after careful consideration and as far as possible, from the perspective as a paying consumer. The alternative would be a subscription model, which is not so viable for those without a large and dedicated following. But at the heart of the matter, I simply don’t think that wildchild’s current content is worthy of remuneration since I’m still trying to improve my skills as a writer and editor. Perhaps I may be more comfortable with monetization when greater intellectual labor is involved. But for now, I’m content with the site being a labour of love.
At the risk of sounding too earnest, I am humbled by those who entrust me with their words and stories, which represent and reflect who they are, even if no one can identify them. I am also thankful to my friends — be it illustrating cover images, sharing my work, being my copy editors, or giving me a part of yourself through your words. And to you, for reading and caring about what wildchild has to say. May we tell more stories in 2021.
Feature image by Sherryl Cheong