New Website!

Hi! I’m no longer going to be using this blog. I now have my own website and will be blogging at simeonharrar.com. If you have enjoyed reading my stuff please follow me on my new website. Blessings to you all!

New Website- simeon.harrar.com

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Fall Is Here

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

- King Solomon from the Book of Ecclesiastes not sure how it works for all of you, but I go through different seasons of writing. Right now I find myself in the Fall season. I’ve come off a vibrant summer season of writing filled with new insights, ideas, and overflowing pages, and now things are beginning to cool down. The inspiration and spark have sputtered.

When I feel myself coming out of a productive season I sometimes get anxious and frustrated. I forget that life is filled with natural rhythms. I can’t spend my entire life writing like a madman. I need time to rest, and rejuvenate.

There is nothing wrong with Fall. I just need to have eyes to see and appreciate it for what it is. I have to allow myself to enjoy its slowness. I need to find space to stop pouring out and allow myself to listen again and be poured into. I need to find a good book that pushes my boundaries as an author and read underneath a giant shedding oak tree.

As a writer I need to be OK with not being productive. Fall is upon me in more than one way, and I want to embrace it with open arms. Oak tree, hot chocolate, and good book here I come!

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The Art of Quitting

I love writing, but taking on writing a novel was a lesson in humility and endurance. It was not the carefree experience I had when I would pick up my journal on a whim when moved by something and just begin to write. Writing a novel is more like a marriage than a one-night stand. You are committed, and along the way you find out all sorts of things about yourself you didn’t expect to find. There is a deep underlying joy in seeing a story come to life, but like a marriage it requires lots of work and sweat and a few tears here and there.

As I was writing my first book, Finding Tom, I had a lot of days when I wanted to just give up. For years I’d dabbled in short stories, poetry, and other quick writes, but none of that practice adequately prepared me to tackle a full-length novel. I found that I easily got bored and struggled to tie together the different threads I had begun to weave. I would go back and look at an idea that seemed so momentous only a day or two before only to realize that it didn’t fit with the overall trajectory of the story. That being said, there were plenty of moments when the overall trajectory of the story was itself in doubt. By the time I finally finished my first draft I had to take a hiatus from the story to let my mind rejuvenate before editing.

Editing was such a difficult process for me because it began to reveal my flaws as a writer. Time and time again I found myself chopping and cutting sentences and paragraphs that I’d taken so much time to painstakingly craft. There were plenty of times out of stubbornness or even shear laziness where I almost didn’t polish and perfect my work even though I knew that it was sub-par. It seemed with every new paragraph there was something else to fix. There were moments where I wondered if I would ever be done and if all of this effort was worthwhile. A healthy tension emerged as I learned when to let things go and when to meddle. A ways through editing I realized that there would be no such thing as a perfect draft. I could read the story a thousand times and always find things here and there to change, so I had to learn the art of quitting. I had to learn to when to let things be. I had to learn to look at the big picture of the story rather than being sucked into the minutia of a little sub-section. This was difficult, but in the end it proved to be a very helpful philosophy to make editing more than just a frustrating chore.

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Listening Storyteller

As people we are created to love and to be loved. We are created to know and to be known. So what does that look like? Well, part of it looks like learning to listen to others share their stories. Sadly, it seems we have forgotten how to listen. Listening is more than just being present. It is more than hearing words and taking in information. Listening runs deeper. It requires presence and concentration. It requires letting go of the million other things that threaten to occupy our mind. Listening is an art to be learned. People often remarked after being in the presence of Mother Theresa that they were overwhelmed by her fullness of presence as she listened to them and asked questions. This incredible woman with more things to do than she could ever hope to accomplish mastered the art of being still and listening to those around her. In doing so, she empowered them. She made them feel important and valued. She looked them in the eyes and through her silence she loved them.

The best storytellers are those who have first learned to listen. They are the ones who see the unspoken words that are told in the twitch of an eyebrow and hear the quiet whispers of the soul. Too often we are so focused on the extreme that we miss out on the simple beauty of the ordinary. We forget that there can be majesty even in the midst of the mundane. We are so captivated by stars and imaginary movie characters that we forget to revel in the richness of the reality in which we live day in and day out. If we only had ears to hear we would understand that the ordinary people waking and walking around us are in their own rights extraordinary. They have stories of triumph and sorrows to share. They are and always will be extraordinary; the question is whether or not you will take the time to see their true identity. Will you look beyond the plain clothes and ordinary job to the person wait underneath to be discovered; the person who is broken and beautiful. Will you learn to linger and to ask questions? Will you hear the stuttering stories of those around you and allow them to capture your imagination? Will you weep with the wounded and laugh with the joyous? Be the kind of listener that you wish you had. Be the kind of listener who puts people first. Learn to listen, and as you do so you will learn to become a story teller, but first you must learn to listen.

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Writing a Chicken Coop

“Writing a book is like building a chicken coop in a high wind. You grab any board or shingle flying by or loose on the ground and nail it fast.” – William Faulkner

I love this quote because it captures the difficulty and borderline insanity of writing a book. Few enter into the stormy winds of writing and even fewer emerge. It is not a task for the faint of heart, because as you begin you realize that the storm is both outside and inside of you. Time will then tell whether or not your chicken coop is a true work of art of merely a ramshackle pile of words and pages. It’s strange now to stand back and look at my first chicken coop. The winds have died down and there it stands; alone, untested. I wait to see how it will fair.

After a decade of writing and learning and finding my own style I finally came to a point where I was even ready to tackle a story. The actual writing of Finding Tom took about a year and was an up and down journey filled with long stretches of lackluster progress mixed in with glorious moments of inspiration. The moments of inspiration were few and far between, and I quickly saw that writing a book is more a test of diligence than literary mastery. I would sometimes go weeks at a time without writing anything, and then when I came back it took me hours to reconnect with the story and find my way again amidst the maze of ideas and characters in my head and on the page.

Writing is a struggle not just with words and language but with one’s very being as you see your own fears, doubt, and questions begin to emerge in the mouths and lives of your characters. You begin to understand that it is impossible to be a fully detached writer. As much as you may try, you cannot stop yourself from seeping onto the pages. I look at Finding Tom and see much more than just my fingerprints. I am there somewhere walking around in the pages hurting, wondering, and hoping. That is both the joy and struggle. I dreamed of making a grand and glorious chicken coop with a perfectly planned blueprint and well stocked supply of tools. I never imagined the strength of the storm and my inability to pound nails into boards and turn paragraphs into chapters. I never imagined the fatigue and the loss of zeal, but they are all part of the experience of being a writer.

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Saying Goodbye

I stood at the head of the large coffin draped in an American flag adorned with flowers as wind whipped across the grassy graveyard. A small crowd of mourners stood looking on as the priest spoke his final words with tears and tissues. Two marines stood at attention in the strong afternoon sun in formal dress. Unmoving statues, they looked on. In the distance a third stood bugle in hand. The sound of Taps broke the solemn silence. We stood as if in a trance, onlookers to a sacred ritual. We said our goodbyes as the dead descended to the ground returning to the dust from which he came. We, the remnant felt the pain of loss, each in our own way.

Finding Tom delves into the struggles of loss. In our broken world, there is no avoiding death. It stings us all leaving scars that we must reckon with. Tom, is just a young boy when he stares death in the face for the first time, and he like those around him must deal with it in his own way.

As Christians today, how do we deal with death? How do we honestly address loss? How do we not allow death to have the final say? I do not claim to have all the answers, or even to say that there is a one size fits all, but in those moments I believe there is power in sharing stories. There is healing in communal remembering. Not, idealization of the deceased and making them out to be something they were not, but rather honest humanizing stories; good, bad, funny. Somewhere in the sharing we find ourselves on the road to healing.

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Head Versus Heart

“No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!” -Sean Connery in Finding Forrester

I started writing seriously when I was in 10th grade after watching the movie Finding Forrester, and now 10 years later after thousands of pages of writing and dreaming a book finally emerged. I began writing because I was inspired by a story, and I continued writing because somewhere along the way I realized that writing helped me make sense of the world. At first I would spend long periods of time sitting and thinking about what I should say, and all the while I would have before me a blank screen or unmarked page. I was used to writing for classes where every sentence and paragraph were meticulously thought through and structured. I was used to 5 paragraph essays and multiple drafts. Writing was work. Writing was wearisome with a looming deadline drawing nearer. I only knew how to write with my mind. There was no real heart involved, only the desire for a good grade.

Forrester’s words ring true in my own story and in the stories of those I have talked to. For most people, writing is connected with school or their jobs. There is the occasional thank you note, but writing is not an activity of the heart. Writing is informational and dry because it is predominantly an exercise of the mind. The heart and soul and passion have been stripped away.

For most of my life I have never thought of myself as an artist. In spite of having a Father who is a professional painter, those genes somehow seemed to skip me. I was a roaring disappointment to every art teacher I ever had. In my memory there is one pastel picture of a Tucan which shines out as a bright spot amidst all my other failed attempts, but I have nothing to prove it isn’t more than a glorified memory. It wasn’t until writing Finding Tom that I had a moment of revelation where, for the first time, I saw myself as an artist. I paint pictures with words. I used a pen rather than a paint brush. I began with a blank page rather than a blank canvas from which to tell my story and bring beauty to the world. A writer who has learned to write from their heart first is truly an artist.

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