The chip of ice in every writer’s heart

It was Graham Greene, wasn’t it, who said that every writer should have a chip of ice inside his heart. This has more than one interpretation, some of them not very nice, but I used to think it meant this: however tragic our situation, or someone else’s, there is a detached part of us that is storing up details so that we may one day write about it.

Does this make us callous? Hard hearted? Exploitative? Should we be ashamed of ourselves? Well, that’s debatable. Do I do this? Yes, I can’t help it, I’m a writer. I sell emotion. (as all writers must).

But I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I’d like to put forward another theory of mine. Actually it’s not a theory; for me it’s a fact.

Writing about emotions that I’ve felt, especially grief or sadness or anger, is immensely cathartic. I write about them because if I didn’t I would go stark raving mad – OK madder than I already am!

I have to write these things out of my system, it helps me to stay sane. It helps me to cope with the awful things life can throw at you sometimes.

And actually I think it helps others too – I write out my emotions in fiction and on the whole I write fiction with upbeat endings. I hope my readers will find identification in what I write and find some comfort in my stories. I really do – and, as it happens, I have many letters from readers who have said that this is exactly how it works.

Gosh, I didn’t know I had such a bee in my bonnet (sorry for the cliché) about this. I would love to know what you think.

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12 Responses to The chip of ice in every writer’s heart

  1. What a fabulous article and very refreshing (no pun intended!). I totally agree that using your own emotions adds a new dimension to your writing. I survived a physically abusive marriage and as horrific as that was I’ve used every ounce of emotion, memory and positive outcome in my stories – I even managed to bring a tear to the eyes in my creative writing class! Just after I left my marriage I wrote my ex a long letter about how he made me feel, I burnt it as soon as it was written and the release of negative emotion was so powerful. Ice chips or titanic sized bergs are just another writers’ resource, thanks for sharing such a strong article.

  2. Rosie Edser says:

    So very true, Della. I’ve found a wide range of emotions coming up in stories as I write. Having got them down on paper I’ve always felt ‘cleansed’. Just pity my characters who have to live with my ‘stuff’ somewhere in the place they exist!

  3. Rachel Green says:

    You could well be write. Perhaps that’s why my default genre is horror!

  4. Rachel Green says:

    *right. Freudian slip, sorry!

  5. Karla says:

    Think I must be well weird – whilst I agree there’s a sort of third eye that comes into play in the heat (or icy chill) of a really bad moment, and a subconscious storing of emotional memory, the worse things get, the more I seem to have an urge to write something funny … I think it’s called running away.

    Ice And A Slice was absolutely brilliant, by the way !!! Doubt I’ve done justice to it, in Amazon review, but the 5 stars are from the bottom of my heart 🙂

  6. Angela Pickering says:

    This is all so true1 I’m still mining my past for stories, including my many plumbing emergencies. Does fear of water running down the wall count? I think it does.

  7. Julia Pattison says:

    Yes, writing down my feelings certainly helps me get through bleak times. Good times too, recorded, make for happy memories when life seems tough. As you know, my Dad just died recently, and reading through my diary entries of the fun times we had together is very comforting.
    Keeping a written record at the moment of how I’m feeling, being so immobile after surgery on my foot – will certainly use those feelings at some point in a story – keeping me from going insane when I’m so used to being busy and out and about. Julia x

  8. Della Galton says:

    Wow, lovely to get so many comments. I would reply to them all individually but I’ve just been told to stay off the computer for a couple of days. Have an eye injury – and to be honest I can’t see the screen very well anyway. Sure there is a story here somewhere too 🙂

  9. kath says:

    You also need the chip of ice, I think, to allow you to do nasty things to your characters in fiction. In my current WIP I had to kill off a lovely, sweet, innocent girl. Definitely needed my chip of ice to do that!

  10. Penny says:

    Hope the eye improves fast, Della!
    Article and comments so illuminating. Must say, the older I become the less sympathetic I am towards writers who don’t use all skills to filter their emotions in their writing. It’s wonderful to evoke emotion, that’s what writing’s all about, I think. But unless your purpose is purely to be therapeutic, it’s much less useful simply to swamp readers with your own feelings… (most likely while saying ‘Oh, but it’s all absolutely true!!’).

  11. Captain Black says:

    I sometimes turn to crime, so to speak.

  12. Della Galton says:

    My eye’s better now – or getting there – so I can read again, hurrah! Am just trying to fathom out how to get eye injuries into a story – tricky 😉

    I agree with you, Karla, on writing happy stuff when you are sad. I do that too. I also find it works in reverse. I can only write very sad stuff when I’m happy.

    And yes, Penny, there’s a lot of difference to pouring out how we feel on the page (very cathartic) and making it work in a story.

    Doing both is the art, I think.

    Fear of water running down a wall, Angela, well that would make an interesting story, I think. Original anyway 🙂

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