writer | college essay coach
Be the Parent Your Child Needs

Yes, I have fallen into the labeling trap, helicopter, snowplow, psycho. After so many years of teaching high school and college and coaching teenagers in writing the college admission essay my only suggestion, never advice, is to be the kind of parent your child, teenager, young adult needs. If your offspring is able to make friends easily, advocate for him or herself-give me back that bucket-does not welcome your problem solving, then back off. My son was a climber, a skateboarder, and a talker. He had the confidence of a professional party guest, could chat up a potted plant and was giving advice to grown-ups on home buying at three. Few were strangers especially if they were young and pretty girls or young men with something he coveted.

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Molly Moynahan
Writing Without a Map

Years ago, I went across Europe by train with a Eurorail Pass accompanied by two not-so-nice young women — one was my friend and the other was her friend — and they spoke French to each other, a language I had failed to master despite several years of abusive and/or despairing French teachers. Anyway, you get the picture. We arrived in Florence and they had an itinerary and a map — this was pre-cell phone, and their special language — so I decided not to go with them but to wander off alone with a bit of college Italian and yes, being 20, a sense that I was welcome anywhere. And I was. It wasn’t just Italian men who smiled and made welcoming gestures, but women of all ages, children, and older people, and babies, and dogs and cats

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Molly Moynahan
The World is a Scary Place

Yes, the world is a scary place and certainly computers and cell phones have changed our lives. But, the world has been a scary place before. I was a kid during three assassinations, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the Manson murders, Jonestown … the nuclear meltdown of Three Mile Island when the possibility of the world ending was very close. The whole idea of sending our precious children into that world can be terrifying. But they aren’t children. Remember how you were told your child would react as you did, if you burst into tears when someone tackled them in football, actually he just told me to never attend another game, ever, but you get the point.

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Molly Moynahan
How to Be a Writer/Mother/Wife/Daughter

First, when your little boy decides to give you a new hairdo while weaving binder clips, white out, jars of pencils, and possibly a small stapler into the back of your head, let him. This may give you another ten minutes or so of working on your book. Recognize as soon as the call comes from the West Coast radio show your son will forget the “no talking game” and demand something complex from the refrigerator. You will describe your artistic beliefs while mixing Parmesan cheese into orzo. Then he will tell you he needs to sit on your lap and whisper things in your ear even though this sort of thing never happens anymore. Practice sounding authorial while your child mutters, “I love my momma” in your ear repeatedly.

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Molly Moynahan
Benign Neglect

Hearing the news about CEOs and Hollywood stars implicated in the recent college admission scandal infuriates and inspires me. I am a writing coach, with three published novels, numerous essays, and decades of teaching high school and college students with stints in schools blacklisted by the Chicago Police Department for gang activity and schools famous for the wealth of its students, the rigor of its classes and its social pressure. I work with rich kids, poor kids, and everything in between. My message to them remains the same, tell your story, tell it well. Teenagers need to be allowed to find their own identities through music and books and their peers and teachers. Not their parents.

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Molly Moynahan
Public Writing

Although my father, the literary critic and novelist Julian Moynahan, had writing and reading space in a separate building in our back yard, nicknamed by my mother, “The Ivory Tower” my clearest memory is not one of a static writer sitting at a desk but more one about edges, the side of the dining room table, the kitchen counter, a chair in the living room. He had his solitary side but clearly he found inspiration when his time was short, compressed, dictated by dinner and putting out the garbage, the only domestic duty I recall him performing.

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Molly Moynahan
Growing Up with the Trojan Woman

She was never a normal mother. Normal mothers in the sixties wore aprons and used Tupperware and stayed home unless they were teachers or nurses. No one’s mother was an architect or graduated from Harvard or washed her hair in the kitchen sink. She was beautiful and walked and swam as if time was running out. A repeating memory of her disappearing, her long legs moving her too fast for me to catch up, her stroke was a crawl that would leave you gasping for breath. My repeated dream was she was dead, in a coffin and I was being told to tell her goodbye.

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Molly Moynahan
Identity

Right after my agent sold my first novel to Harper & Row, I was invited to a very upscale Manhattan literary party populated by up and comers in publishing and writing. I brought a friend for protection and when asked what I did I said, “I’m a teacher.” I was an adjunct at Brooklyn College where I was obtaining an MFA in fiction writing. “You’re a writer,” my friend hissed. “You just got a book deal with a huge publisher.” “I’m not saying I’m a writer.” “But you are!” “It sounds like boasting.”

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Molly Moynahan
Loser

I know how Hilary Clinton felt. Well, no, I don’t. But I know a teeny bit how she must have reacted to the election of that ignorant, lying, cheating, adulterous creep instead of qualified, articulate, heroic, intelligent her. It wasn’t fair. So, there’s the Fatty factor. We had a porky Russian Blue named Fatty to distinguish him from his semi-identical twin, Skinny. I entered Fatty in a contest sponsored by a kitty litter company inventing his persona as a thug-like, jaded, feline who was very proud of his ‘crib’.

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Molly Moynahan
How to Go on a Writing Retreat and Not Lose Your Mind

1. Low expectations. Non-writers might imagine some sort of serene and meditative experience that produces at least hundreds of pages if not a book. Writers will expect multiple games of Words With Friends, an endless layering of bad feelings: guilt, shame, fear, boredom, panic, anger, regret. Repeat. Writers know that no matter the beauty of your setting – mountains, ocean, lakes – you will feel trapped, sad, and grow to loathe the landscape.

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Molly Moynahan
Writing and Depression

So, on the phone yesterday I was sobbing to my mother that I was so sorry not to be able to manage Thanksgiving in a traditional way, creating that perfect meal, because I was "struggling." I am struggling. I know it's hard to be a writer, challenging to be sixty, the world is in such turmoil, I broke my leg and can no longer spend hours working out, I am trying to be an effective teacher, reading essays, blah, blah. I have so much, a wonderful husband, a lovely place to live, an amazing son, friends,

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Molly Moynahan
Textiles, Text, Weaving the World

In weaving class yesterday I went to the back of my loom and tried to squint at the previous weeks work. I was worried that my hitherto "intuitive" yarn choosing might be lacking a connection with the previous yarn pulling and this could jar or fail. As you weave the piece rolls up upon itself and you can only look at sections. My teacher paused as I was doing this and I found myself explaining that when I work on something long, very long, like a novel, it usually takes years. And there are many pages behind me as I move forward

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Molly Moynahan
Groucho and Me

On the second day of the Creative non-fiction writing conference, I totaled my car. I think it was my fault. I think I might have started to turn right on a green and the light turned red while I was turning but I don't know. Two cars hit me. One, a huge jeep with two guys (bros) on their way to play golf. The other, a hysterical girl who kept screaming, "This is my boyfriend's car!" That was the extent of the drama. A gentle, nice policeman arrived and asked if we were all okay and didn't react when I couldn't find my driver's license which, as it turned out, I had left in Chicago.

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Molly Moynahan
What Writing Means to Me

Writing exists in my life free of neurosis or attachment. It has brought me a little fame and money but mainly it has given me purpose, a way to process what sometimes seems impossible to accept or forgive. It has also given me a way to help others. As a writing teacher and coach I have witnessed students discovering their stories whether based on fact or conjured from dreams and imagination.  Writing was a way to change the realities of my childhood. While my parents were brilliant, funny and loving they were also narcissistic and self-destructive.

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Molly Moynahan
Teenage Wasteland

Yesterday I was working in Starbucks rather longer than I intended. My client had cancelled and I was already there so I ended up eavesdropping on a group of sophomore students from St. Ignatius, a prestigious Chicago Catholic private school. Their faces betrayed recent childhood, one boy's cheeks still had the roundness of a child but as he said "fuck" every other word and referred to various classmates as "skanky whores" it was hard to accept that face with that vocabulary.

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Molly Moynahan
Acceptance, Happiness, Letting Go

So, my wonderful friend who is a connector of people invited me to meet her friend Ava, an 84 year old survivor of the Holocaust, a poet, painter, writer and beauty. She was full of life and a sort of serenity that must come from a world she has watched turn itself inside out over and over again. She lost her family except for her mother in the camps. She was hidden with a family for four years who had little education so she had to pretend to be mute to not be detected as an outsider.

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Molly Moynahan
Writing & Writing & Writing

So – what happens after you write two novels, move to London, Dallas, and then Chicago with a newborn, toddler and then get separated? You don't write much. You go out and get work as a creative writing teacher, you try and make some friends, you smile hard for your adoring son, you try not to doubt your decision to have married the man who no longer seems like your friend. You return to the gym, make friends with a whole new group of gym ladies who love your kid. You try to make friends and realize you're tired of doing that.

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Molly Moynahan