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Introducing the Kaya Toast Mini-Mentorship Initiative

This initiative is something that I’ve been wanting to try for some time, although I wasn’t sure how best to go about it. I’ve finally decided that the only way is to just do it, and learn as I/we go.

Here’s how it works: starting from this month, I’d like to offer a couple of mini-mentorships at a time, to people who have interest in writing and/or journalism, and who might want some support/advice. I’d especially like to extend this to people from communities whose stories or experiences might not always be told, or at least, not told from their perspective.

If selected, I’ll work with you on the story idea that you’ve pitched to produce a reported feature or essay (some examples below). I’m happy to talk/guide you through the process of writing, and to go through rounds of editing (within reason) with you once you have a draft.

I’m doing this because, over the years, I’ve come across, or been contacted by, people who want to become journalists, want to work on their writing skills, or have important stories to tell. Some email me to ask for advice about freelancing, or about writing. Others make remarks not knowing how to write, even if they feel like they have something to say. I’ve tried to give bits of advice where I can, but think it might be much better to learn/support by doing. (It’s how I learned, after all.)

I have experience as an editor—for two-and-a-half-years I edited features almost full-time for New Naratif—but I’ve not done something like this mini-mentorship idea before, so this is very much an experiment. I’m only selecting two at a time because that’s what I think I can cope with on top of all my other work/volunteering. (Also, since there’s an honorarium if the final piece gets published in this newsletter, I can’t afford to pay for that many out of my own pocket!)

Why Kaya Toast?

A friend suggested that it’s because we should “spread ideas like kaya”, which is very cute.

But if I’m being honest, since We, The Citizens already has Milo Peng Funders, I was looking for another Singapore breakfast-y thing and I didn’t want to call participants Soft-Boiled Eggers. 🥚

What do you mean by reported features or essays?

I’m referring to journalistic work, with quotes/interviews, background, and research. They can be written in first or third person, depending on what fits the story.

In a nutshell, a reported feature is a piece of longform journalism that uses interviews and sources to dive deeper into a particular event/issue, whereas an essay is more clearly an opinion/commentary piece (although that doesn't necessarily mean it requires less reporting or research!)

Please take a look at these examples—you’ll see what I mean.

Examples of reported features published on We, The Citizens:

Note: The reported feature that we work on during this mini-mentorship need not—and likely will not—be as long as the long reads.

Examples of essays published on We, The Citizens:

Does this pay?

I can’t promise from the very beginning that your final piece will be published on We, The Citizens. But if I think the final product is a good fit, I’ll publish it as a guest issue and pay an honorarium of S$200.

If the piece doesn’t get published on We, The Citizens, I won’t be able to offer payment for it. But you’re absolutely welcome to pitch it elsewhere—and I’m happy to offer some basic tips about pitching, although I won’t be able to guarantee that it’ll be picked up, since that’ll be up to whoever you’re pitching to.

Similarly, you’re welcome to choose not to have the piece published on We, The Citizens, and to take it elsewhere (maybe you’re writing for your own organisation, or you want to start your own blog, or you’d rather keep it private). In this case, I won’t be able to pay for the piece, either, but I’d hope you’ll have found the mini-mentorship process helpful!

Who should apply?

I'm opening this initiative to anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, education levels, nationality etc.

That said, I plan to prioritise applicants from communities that are less likely to have the space to tell their stories or have their voices heard. For instance, I'd love to be able to work with a sex worker to write about the issues that they face in Singapore, or to support the publication of a piece about families living in rental flats by someone who actually lives in a rental flat. I'd like this initiative to be able to support minorities to write about what matters to them, rather than be written about, as is so often the case elsewhere.

Since We, The Citizens is a newsletter focused on Singapore, I'm also only opening this to Singaporeans/people in Singapore, writing about something happening in, or related to, Singapore. (This means: Singaporean diaspora welcome, as long as your pitch is related to Singapore!)

How to apply?

I've put together a simple application form that'll walk you through the elements of pitching a story for this initiative.

I'll be selecting entries based on the story, so you can also submit more than one application with a different story idea.

I'll keep this form open until 11:59pm on 21 June 2021. After that, I'll take about a week to go through the applications and make my decision.

How long will this go?

Writing takes time, especially if it's not something you're used to. Also, with the pandemic, things can just take longer to get done. So I'm not putting any hard deadlines on this; I want to give participants the opportunity to digest and do their best without feeling like they're being pushed past their limit on top of their other work and obligations.

But I also don't want a single mini-mentorship to drag out for months and months and months, because that means I won't be able to take on anyone new. Once I select an entry, we can talk about what a reasonable time frame will be, and set a deadline for ourselves.

This sounds great! How can I support it?

If you're not applying for this initiative but would like to support it, please consider becoming a Milo Peng Funder! Your subscription fee goes towards supporting my independent writing/civil society work, and helps me pay honorariums for guest issues.

If you'd like to offer more support beyond the Milo Peng Fund, you can make a donation via