Friday's Star: PJ Yusten

PJ YustenPJ Yusten has a major in education (journalism concentration) and is a freelance writer, copy editor and graphics designer. She publishes under the names EJ Young and PJ Yusten. She freelances as a tutor  for secondary students in writing, literature, test prep and college application essays.  PJ Yusten is also a contract, part-time teacher at Edmentum online academy. 

Her professional memberships include

  • National Council of Teachers
  • Society of Professional Journalists


Hello Patsy.  How are you today?  Welcome to Friday’s Stars. It is a pleasure to have you at this interview. Please tell our readers something about yourself and about your writing.


My name is PJ Yusten. My writing has gone through several stages. As a teen I focused on creative writing often expressing personal feelings and unrealistic ideas about the world. As a nontraditional student in college, I gained more perspective about the role of writing, the different types of writing and the importance of the written and spoken word in a free society. As a young teacher, I thought of myself as a pessimistic optimist or a person hopeful about the world without being a romantic. Writing played a huge role in that philosophy. Since leaving the profession and living through the changes in public education—from small classrooms of writers and valuable time for personal feedback, to over-crowded classrooms and glorified babysitting, I’ve become an optimistic pessimist. I still hope for the world to be a better place but circumstances seem to contradict that possibility. That negative/harsh tone influences my writing.


Listening to all this culmination you went through, I’m curious, how did it start? How was the first time you sat at your desk to write? What was the feeling? Any special motivation?


I’ve loved to write for as long as I can remembe. However, I didn’t think about showing my work to anyone as I lacked confidence. In high school, my English teacher encouraged me to explore writing. He placed me in a creative writing class for upperclassmen and I was the only lowly sophomore in the group. Most likely, he was part of the reason I went on to major in English, teach for over 20 years and finally shift focus back to my passion for writing.

 Although I was known as a rebel in high school—loud, outspoken and self-assured, much of it was a cover to hide my vulnerability. The support of this teacher helped me recognize my strengths. His writing class was my first real exposure to different genres and the validity of writing formats beyond research, narration and expository writing.


It looks like you’ve had one inspiring, motivating teacher. Not many can say that of the teachers they’ve had.  How has this impacted your work?

 I took his creative writing class nearly 40 years ago and I still remember the curriculum. I remember designing a box kite covered with original Haikus written on the material used for the kite. As cheesy as it sounds, the day we flew our kites was most likely the moment I recognized the importance of the role of writing in my life as well as the endless possibilities of influencing change in the world through writing.

 As a teacher, I discovered the value of positive feedback and constructive criticism in guiding young writers. From my own experience, I understood the vulnerability of sharing personal experiences through writing allowing me to create a warm classroom environment where all students felt safe to validate their experiences on paper.  


How do you usually find your ideas?

 I look through personal journals, read news, browse social media … use writing prompts. Mostly, I react to the world around me.


What genre of writing do you find yourself most comfortable in?

 I use my personal experiences, reflections, childhood memories, family relationships, stories related to my life growing up in SD. I also like to voice personal opinion pieces related to politics, education, parenting, and the ills of society as well as articles related to real estate, design and home décor.


Does ‘writing block” sound familiar?

 My writing problem is more about being overwhelmed attempting to organize and follow through with the material I’ve written and ideas I have, rather than a writer’s block. I am often too critical. The lack of perfection of meeting my standards becomes an excuse for incomplete projects.


With the writing experience that you have would it be proper to assume you might consider yourself an expert in your field?

 Actually, I consider myself an expert in the field of education. Twenty-three years of teaching in SD and IA in urban settings and rural settings, large schools and small schools have given me a unique perspective on public education. Working as an advisor for student publications (newspaper and yearbook), contest speech coach and theater director and sponsor for other clubs such as LGBT/Rainbow Club gave me a well-rounded view as an educator. Besides, I am an expert in teaching writing. I recognize the individual facets of all writing genres. Through samples, modeling and feedback, I have the ability to help others improve their writing skills.


 Ok, let me ask you this: if a publisher is to approach your work and review what you write, how do you think they will grade you on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the best?

 The rating would vary depending on the type of writing submitted. Nonfiction, personal reflection or news articles might rate 7-8ish with other types of writing slightly lower.  


And how would you rate your quality of writing from 1 to 10?

 Depends on the day and the type of writing. Overall, I probably average 7-8ish in quality with the occasional 3-5ish or even a few 10s depending on the objective.


With your given experience and love about writing, what piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

 I believe in Faulkner’s philosophy of writing what you know. No amount of research can replace first-hand experience and the familiarity of local culture. Writing based on what you know sounds more believable and sincere than a manufactured scene. It allows your natural voice as a writer to emerge.

 Write in a journal every day. Keep it by your bed and jot down details of dreams and nightmares. Even if your journal often sounds like a diary or a planner, keep writing. Do not stop to organize your thoughts or worry about grammar and spelling. Simply get your thoughts on paper. A journal can help you discover who you are, provide ideas for stories and help create a sense of achievement.

 Write about your own interests. Consider the feedback of others but keep your original style without sacrificing your own passion.


And how does PJ Yusten visualize her future?

 Technology is growing faster than our ability to understand all its implications. The benefits are obvious but I think we sacrifice much of our integrity socially and academically. I regret that my granddaughter and other young people may never experience the luxury of reading a printed book. As a five-year-old, she enjoys turning the pages of a book but she definitely spends more time with digital media. Most of the time, she “reads” more stories on an iPad or computer. I regret the loss of objective news as a result of dismantling the profession of journalism by replacing trained journalists with mediocre writers known as citizen journalists. Authentic news stories are quickly being replaced by soft news often pieced together by writers who don’t recognize the importance of objectivity or the difference between fact and opinion. We settle for less because it’s easier and more convenient than insisting on the real thing. So, in summary and to answer your question directly, I see my role as a facilitator with the purpose of sharing the “old ways” in order to appreciate where we’ve been and evaluate where we’re going.


Thank you, Patsy, for obliging to this interview. A passionate teacher, you have impressively interwoven your writing skill along with your knack for teaching, and this makes you doubly strong in the field of the written word. Together with Mandy’s Pages and all our readers I wish you the very best … and may it be said by your students down the years that you have made a huge impact on them.  Once again, thank you for your time and sharing.  Have a great day.


Interact with PJ Yusten at the following 

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EJ Young on Helium

@ejjyoung on Twitter

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