Author teaches students how to be a writer

Jodi
Jodi Schellenberg
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A former Paddockwood resident came back to the area to speak with Prince Albert students about writing.

Maxine Spence, formerly of Paddockwood, talks to Riverside Community School students about her first book, Leaf, at the library on Thursday.

Maxine Spence presented her book Leaf to a group of Grade 3 and 4 students from Riverside Community School on Thursday afternoon at the John M. Cuelenaere Library in Prince Albert.

“I am excited to be here and I’m glad to share about my passion for writing,” Spence said. “I love to write and I love to share about writing.”

Spence spoke to the students about the process of publishing a book.

“The question that is most often asked of authors is ‘How do writers get ideas?’” Spence said. “I believe that we are swimming in a soup of ideas and all we need is to tune into them.”

Spence said to come up with ideas people use their five senses and their imagination.

“I share with them that whole thing, all those things I believe, and then I give examples of how I’ve gotten ideas from things that I have seen or heard and how that happened so they have concrete examples,” she explained. “Then I end with telling them about how I got the idea for Leaf, which is my first book, and then we read my first book because it is a beautiful story and I would like them to hear it.”

Another topic she talks to students about is how illustrations enhance and tie-in with the story.

“I talk a bit about the process and work backwards -- here is what it looks like now and here is what it looked like in all of the steps before that,” Spence said.

In order to create Leaf, Spence would scribble down ideas on random pieces of paper as she thought of them. Once she had all the ideas, she sat down and wrote it into a story on the computer.

Since it is a children’s book, Spence then created a mock-up of her book, putting her ideas of how the story should flow into a book format, with notes of the pictures she would like on each page. It soon was published with a first edition soft cover and a second edition hard cover.

“They see that there is a process,” Spence said. “I also try to talk about editing a bit because teachers love that.”

Since she was an avid reader growing up, Spence always wanted to write a story herself.

“I grew up in Paddockwood -- there was a little tiny library in there and I think I read every single book in the library,” she said. “I loved that little library, I loved reading and I always thought I would like to create stories myself some day and especially when I was raising my boys.”

When her boys would bring book home from the library and Spence would read them, she often had the thought “I could do better than this.”

“That is what kind of spurred me on too,” she laughed.

Since she likes to focus on one thing at a time, Spence said she didn’t feel she could raise a family and write a book.

“I focused on the raising of the family and then when they hit the teenage years, that is when I started to really pursue the idea of having something published,” Spence said. “I had scribbled and written through the years, but nothing really seriously until then.”

Her first book was published in 2011 and her second book was just sent to her last week.

“I live in Alberta and the Saskatchewan students I have presented to are the first ones to see the book, so that is sort of fun,” Spence said.

She loves presenting her book and talking about writing with students.

“It is so interesting how different the groups are,” Spence said. “Some groups just don’t get my jokes -- it is not just some kids in the group it is all of them -- and then the very next class they are laughing along, they are excited and they get it. It is so interesting.

“It is also interesting how they change from Kindergarten to Grade 3 to Grade 6,” she added. “There are very different things that interest them.”

It is also a great experience to be presenting to students in the area where she grew up.

“My parents moved into Prince Albert a couple of years ago so I came and stayed with them and did some presentations this week,” Spence said.

On Wednesday she did a presentation in Meath Park, which is where she went to high school.

“They didn’t have an elementary school when I went to school there so it was kind of surreal trying to wander around and make out what things used to be,” she smiled. “It was very, very fun to come back.”

For those seeking advice from Spence, she said if you want to be a writer, the best advice is just to write.

“Get your bum in the chair and your pen in the hand and write,” she said.

She gets questions from people of all ages, not just children.

“It is funny when you go to places and do presentations for adults and they will be asking questions like, ‘How do you get an agent?’ or ‘How do you find a publisher?’” Spence said. “I’ll say, ‘What are you writing?’ and they will say, ‘Well, I haven’t written anything yet.’ You need to write.

“If you are going to be a writer, you need to spend time every day sitting down and writing.”

The other piece of advice she can give is to make sure you also read.

“You want to be a good writer -- read. A lot. As much as you can. Everything. And if you are stuck in one genre, try to shake it up a little bit and read something else somewhere else.”

Organizations: Riverside Community School, John M. Cuelenaere Library

Geographic location: Paddockwood, Alberta, Saskatchewan Meath Park

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