• Jeanine Walker and Early Writing Influences

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 5 comments

    TL;DR version: This week we welcome to the WriteByNight team our newest coach and consultant, Jeanine Walker. In her Q&A, Jeanine cites her ninth grade English teacher as a major influence. When asked about our influences, many of us will name writers we admire. But what about the people who impacted us at a young age? Let’s discuss below.


    If you’ve visited our Staff page recently you’ll have noted that we’ve hired a new writing coach and consultant, Jeanine Walker. Jeanine, who lives in Seattle, received a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Houston and runs writing workshops in and around Seattle.

    To learn more about Jeanine, take a peek at this Q&A. If you’re interested in working with Jeanine through one of our signature one-on-one services, contact us for a free consultation to discuss.

    What jumped out at me in Jeanine’s Q&A was her response when we asked about her writing influences. Most of us will immediately begin rattling off a list of writers we admire and perhaps have tried to emulate. And Jeanine does do that, eventually, naming writers such as Mary Gaitskill, Marie Howe, and Ruth Ozeki.

    But first she says this: “My 9th grade English teacher, Lloyd Sheaffer, was a huge influence. He read everything I brought to him to read outside of class for four years.”

    I came to writing at a late age, relatively speaking. It didn’t interest me as a kid. I was an obsessive reader, but I rarely wrote for pleasure, and I despised most writing assignments in school. (Still do.) It wasn’t until I was twenty-six years old, when I switched my undergrad major to English/creative writing, that I began to take more than a passing interest.

    So I never think of early influences on my writing, because writing wasn’t any kind of pursuit for me. But Jeanine’s comment made me remember some encouragement I haven’t thought of in a long time.


    Chores & Whores

    I think it was eleventh grade, an expository writing class. Major yawn, right? I imagine it felt like a chore.

    The teacher’s name was Mrs. Edington. I don’t even know her first name. I looked in my senior yearbook; she’s not listed. I searched Google; there’s one result, a former student thanking her as Mrs. Edington.

    One day Mrs. Edington handed me a book by political humorist/satirist P.J. O’Rourke. I think it was Parliament of Whores. (Try giving a kid these days a book with “whore” in the title.) She did this in response to a paper I wrote whose subject I don’t even remember. And she said something like, “If you wanted to, you could write like this guy.” She suggested that I read the book and then return it to her.


    Reader, I Didn’t

    I never read the book, and I never returned it to her. I’m pretty sure it’s in a box in my parents’ attic. And apparently Mrs. Edington wasn’t part of the faculty my senior year.

    But the more I think about it, the more I realize I carried that moment with me.

    I don’t write like P.J. O’Rourke — at least, I don’t think I do. (Again, never read him.) But I do write, and regardless of its lack of immediate impact, that unsolicited encouragement from Mrs. Edington stuck with me and gave me an occasional boost during my post-high school writing pursuits.

    So, thank you, Mrs. Edington. Someday I’ll hand that book to you. Along with a copy of my own. Which may or may not have “whores” in its title.

    Your turn: Tell us about someone who had an early influence on your writing, whether or not it impacted you at the time. Have you ever thanked that person? If not, would you like to now? What would you say?


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    John Liebling

    Not a someone. Something? I am old enough to have grown up with the first Star Trek series in the 1960s. And yes I did attend two Star Trek conventions. To help cope with reality I read about 100 Star Trek novels while I was in my 20s and 30s. In my mid-30s I tried my first screenplay. The idea was – novel – never seen before – but I had no clue how to write a screen play. My ten seconds of fame arrived as i pitched an idea to the Director of Star Trek VI Nicholas Meyers. I… Read more »

    John Liebling

    As a pre teen and teen and read some hardy boys. Star Trek had a lot bigger emotional connection. The best Star Trek episode by far – Harlan Ellison’s City on The Edge of Forever – Time Traveling. There is a huge difference between an impressionable 8 year old kid and a jaded 19 year old. Star War came in in 1977 when I was 19. I enjoy science fiction much more than fantasy realm of Star Wars. Infesting in characters and various plots in Star Wars as forgiveness??? I would have set up how Darth Vadar became evil in… Read more »


    I`m traveling with little internet access, so I missed the first week of the accountabillity tool, but I hope you continue it. (For the record, I met my goal for last week.) I`m also using a Spanish keyboard with different characters and layout, so please forgive if I screw up the typing. Early influences? A friend in high school who was an amazing visual artist (she won a national award and had her painting displayed in Washington D.C.) gave me a journal and said “You need to write.“ That was my first journal and I kept several over the years.… Read more »

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