Elfstedentocht ~~ Maressa Mortimer

Every winter in the Netherlands there is a chance of an Elfstedentocht (Eleven city tour). It’s an ice-skating tour that passes eleven cities in Friesland, in the north of the Netherlands. It’s about 200 km long, and can only be done when it’s very, very cold. Not just your average frost, when people flock to the canals and town ponds to skate around for a while. No, it has to be a prolonged hard frost, for the ice has to have a certain depth and hardness to it. Believe it or not, an Elfstedentocht is very popular, so tonnes of people will want to take part. Fancy getting up in the middle of the night to make a five o’clock start with temperatures of about -20C?

The last one was in 1997, and I remember sitting in the neighbour’s living room watching it. The king, then crown prince, even took part, in disguise. It’s gruelling, and frostbite is a real danger. It’s a race or a tour, depending on what you sign up for, but either way, to get to the end is incredible. The whole country watches and the special committee is busier than ever.

So what has this got to do with writing? Well, I realised that sometimes I wait for just the right moment, for the right depth of thought, for the hard facts to be in place before opening my laptop. It’s like the writing committee in my head tests the ice, and all the boxes need to be ticked.

As a non-committee member, I used to cycle to school with literally two coats and a pair of mittens over my pair of gloves, feeling all excited: surely this was Elfstedentocht weather? The ice on the local canals was rock solid, this must be it. I remember one year they were about to call one, but the weather turned before they could start. So close!

Is your writing like that? Are you a perfectionist in certain things, so if the idea or story isn’t perfect in your head, you won’t even start? I remember story writing lessons at primary school, with friends staring at their blank paper for the entire lesson. How about you skip the first few sentences, and start writing from where you know how to phrase things? Simply remind yourself that the choice is either you start writing or you do the washing up as well as the ironing.

Sometimes we can prevaricate and procrastinate so long that the ideal writing time has passed. Suddenly it’s close to midnight. Don’t be like the Elfsteden Committee and put it off. Seize the day! Make time, find time. Put it in your diary, tell Alexa to nag you. Balance your laptop on the worktop and type as fast as you can between stirring whatever it is you’re cooking.

Best of all, the Elfstedentocht is thousands of people scratching away on their skates, all with the same aim. They’re all freezing cold, they’re all exhausted, they’re probably all wondering whose bright idea this was. They manage to smile at the waving, cheering crowd for the first one of two cities, after that their cheeks are too cold, I would imagine.

When you sit down to write, there’ll be someone else sitting at their desk, wondering how much chocolate they should buy to get the chapter written. Some other poor soul is wondering if they should have another coffee now, or after they have managed to write the next paragraph. And once you lean back, satisfied, there will some other writer somewhere doing the same thing, reaching for that chocolate bar at the same time for a well-deserved treat. You are not alone and think of the poor last straggler making it across that frozen line. It doesn’t matter how fast, how well it’s done. You’ve done it, and after all, editors need to earn a living too, so there’s that.

Now, what’s the temperature, I wonder...

 Maressa Mortimer lives in the beautiful Cotswolds, England with her husband and four (adopted) children. Her debut novel, Sapphire Beach, was published December 2019, and her first self published novel, Walled City came out on December 5th 2020, as her own St Nicholas present to the world! You can buy your very own, signed copy at www.vicarioushome.com.

She is a homeschool mum, so her writing has to be done in the evening, when peace and quiet descends on the house once more. She loves writing Christian fiction, as it’s a great way to explore faith in daily life.


Eden Baylee said…
Hi Maressa,

This >>>> Are you a perfectionist in certain things, so if the idea or story isn’t perfect in your head, you won’t even start?

-- Absolutely not! I think I'm the opposite. The idea is barely there and I go! I try to pants my way through it. Not always successful though!

Elfstedentocht sounds fascinating. I would not participate in it because I despise the cold, but what a fabulous event for those who enjoy cold weather!

Thanks, Eden! Haha, I'm the same, I'm a pantser! And I can't skate, too cold!
Fran Hill said…
A super post! Very inspirational. I love the ending about editors needing to earn a living. So right :)
Thank you, Fran. Haha, I trust my editor friend rather blindly...
Ruth Leigh said…
I'm learning so much about Dutch culture from you, Maressa! This is so brilliantly written, weaving between Dutch customs, the weather and the process of writing. I particularly like the way you draw a community of desperate writers, all glugging coffee and eating too much chocolate!
Thank you, Ruth! Haha, nothing like solidarity...
Wendy H. Jones said…
I love this analogy, Maressa. It really hits home, although. not as hard aas that ice, especially fi you fall and hit it at speed.
SC Skillman said…
I loved finding out about this custom in the Netherlands. When writing a novel, I start the story without fully understanding everything, and believe that we discover what it is we have to say in the course of writing. And then the hard work of rewriting starts!
Thanks, Wendy and Sheila! Yes, I'm similar, Sheila, although I like my books with lots of open questions, leaving people to imagine the answers...😍
Reb MacRath said…
Another beautifully thought-out and written post. I'm definitely a plotter. And I really relate to the chocolate self-treaters. Each writing session for me begins with a few squares of my favorite dark chocolate. Now and then at the end of a hard session, I'll black--no, brown-mail myself to finish with the prospect of just-one-more square at the end.
Thanks, Reb! Chocolate is amazing, it's basically eating vegetables!
Deborah Jenkins said…
I saw a piece about this on the BBC News! A great post with some inspirational thoughts. Thank you, Maressa.

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