Wilmette resident teams up on new book about writing college essays
Illustrator Jennifer Rapp Peterson (left) of Wilmette and Author Molly Moynahan of Chicago collaborated on the book "Pitch Perfect: How to Write a Successful College Admission Essay" which was recently published. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
WHO: Author Molly Moynahan and illustrator and designer Jennifer Rapp Peterson
WHAT: Moynahan’s book “Pitch Perfect: How to Write a Successful College Admission Essay”, designed by Peterson
HOMETOWNS: Wilmette (Peterson), Chicago (Moynahan)
Updated: September 3, 2012 6:02AM
WILMETTE — When it comes to stressful life experiences, writing a college admission essay may be right up there with surviving the zombie apocalypse — at least as far as nervous high school students are concerned.
Calming pre-admission jitters takes more than just telling college-bound teens grammatical rules and acceptable letter formats, writer Molly Moynahan and graphic designer Jennifer Rapp Peterson believe.
That’s why the two joined forces to publish Moynahan’s book: “Pitch Perfect: How to Write a Successful College Admission Essay.”
Along the way, the two experienced their own adventure — that of writing, designing, producing and marketing a book they hope will do two things: Teach teens to write a great essay and convince them to use their new writing and thinking skills their entire lives.
“Teens don’t know their own voices. They need to know not only that they have a voice, but that what they have to think and say is worth communicating in that voice,” said Peterson, a Wilmette native.
Peterson, 45, fell in love with the written word in university, long after the one-time New Trier High School student sent her own essays out. Combined with her artistic talents, it has helped her become a toy inventor, software consultant, children’s book illustrator and business operator. Her ventures include a greeting card company and a website design company, www.indiemade.com.
She met Moynahan through mutual friends and found her funny and interesting to talk to. Peterson designed Moynahan’s website, and the two became friends.
When Moynahan talked about writing an admissions essay guide, and the challenges of doing so independently, Peterson leaped at the chance to work with her.
“I looked at her and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’ve got this book in me!’”
Moynahan, 55, grew up in Princeton, N.J., and moved to Chicago in the mid-1990s. She is a playwright, scriptwriter and author of three novels. She also taught at Evanston Township High School from 2004 to 2009.
While teaching stints at Rutgers, Loyola and Columbia universities enhanced her familiarity with what colleges seek in applicants, it was her interactions with high school students that planted the seed for the book.
“I didn’t come at this from an academic stance,” she said. “There is some great advice out there of that type, but I wanted to create something that students would read and would want to use well beyond just writing their entrance essay.”
One of her impetuses was remembering how she worked to convince ETHS students that their life experiences — such as working a job after school to support family or translating conversations for non-English-speaking parents — could matter to college administrators.
It took the pair about a year to complete the project. The book takes readers from writing basic “show and tell” stories, to writing poems and recollections of their lives, to the philosophical, grammatical and technical building blocks a final essay requires.
Peterson molded that message with a clean and focused book design, enlivened by whimsical and occasionally wryly pointed illustrations. But she did more than that, Moynahan said.
“My creative process can best be described as chaotic,” she laughed. “Jennifer helped give me the structure this needed. And she gave me the name, when she said this was really about helping kids pitch their messages from their hearts, and making that pitch perfect.”
The book, published through Peterson’s www.indiemadepress.com and available at www.pitchperfectwriting.com and www.mollymoynahan.com, gained kudos from Rutgers University educators, and was picked as a student writing aid by Chicago’s Northside College Prep High School.
Peterson and Moynahan wouldn’t mind working together on possible future projects, but for now, Moynahan is concentrating on her latest novel, and on holding writing workshops. Her next free workshop is from 4 to 6 p.m. Aug. 15 at Evanston Public Library.
Ultimately, both Peterson and Moynahan said, “Pitch Perfect” can be used by anyone wanting to improve the way they present themselves to the world on paper.
“I don’t want this book just to send kids off to college, simply to have them forget everything they learned. I want them to incorporate this into their entire lives,” Moynahan said.
“And writing is a tool you can use and enjoy your entire life.”