For me (Nicole), here is a slightly longer version of my answer:
My writing influence stemmed from desperation and the love of a good friend. Thanks to a series emotionally blindsiding tragedies, I found myself needing to retreat and process what was happening around me. My abused friends enjoyed the brunt of my venting via email and instant message, and one valuable friend in particular changed my life when he complimented my writing and told me I should be a writer. That was the first time I'd ever considered becoming a writer. He encouraged me to take writing classes at a local university extension program. At that point, not only had I never been exposed to writing classes, I didn't even know they'd existed. When we parked in the campus parking structure, and got out of the car, I had what I now understand was a panic attack. I'd had negative scholastic experiences and just being on a campus elicted a great deal of anxiety. Still does, actually. He took my hand anyway and walked me there, steadfastly reassuring me that it would be okay. He was right. It was. If he hadn't been the Gayle to my Oprah, I wouldn't be a writer today. Thanks Geo!