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Writer's Block Montage

When a character is a writer and his creative efforts are stalled, his torment is invariably displayed as a montage. The sequence inevitably includes shots of ashtrays slowly filling to overflowing, bottles of booze (or pots of coffee) slowly emptying, a ticking clock, typewritten letters appearing one at a time to form words on a page, and a series of shots of the author at his typewriter: putting in a fresh sheet of paper, typing, pulling out the sheet to crumple it up and throw it away with a disgusted look, and shots of the trashcan overflowing more and more. Other possible shots include: his worried agent or publisher, everyone in the house knocking on the door one at a time wondering if he's still alive, the writer sitting in various positions on his chair, and the despairing creator punching a hole in the wall. See also Wastebasket Ball.

When Played for Laughs, there is almost always a sequence where the writer several times puts a sheet into the typewriter, types a few words, and pulls it out to crumple and throw away, followed by putting a new sheet in, staring at the blank paper for a moment, then pulling it out, crumpling it and throwing it away.

Generally a Discredited Trope nowadays — despite that, aside from the outdated typewriter and the fact that not all writers smoke, the basic idea is close to Truth in Television, right down to the inability to leave the desk before finishing that blasted paragraph just right.

Really.

Examples:

Film
  • The Shining: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
  • Barton Fink is essentially an entire movie based on this principle, down to Fink typing the exact same establishing shot and nothing else every time he sits down. Supposedly, The Coen Brothers wrote it while they were blocked writing Miller's Crossing.
  • Shakespeare in Love plays with this trope. Our first shot of Will sees him busily and confidently scribbling away, and we cut to his paper to see that he's just trying out different signatures over and over. However, he does crumple up a sheet of parchment and toss it away moodily - only for it to land next to a very Hamlet-esque skull.
  • Not quite a montage, but the basic imagery is well and truly incorporated into Breakfast at Tiffany's; we see the classic crumpled up balls of paper under Paul's desk as the camera pans upward.

Comic Books
  • One alternate-universe Clark Kent had writer's block while writing a novel. Frustrated, he picks up the typewriter, crumples it into a ball, and hurls it through the wall of his lunar Fortress of Solitude. It smacks into a hillside miles away, which is shown to be pockmarked with craters, each containing a crumpled typewriter...

Live-Action TV
  • The IT Crowd, as they attempt to find a way to make the tech department more popular. (Set to the music of The A-Team.)
  • Spaced has a version where Daisy stares at a blank piece of paper in the (yes) typewriter and keeps glancing at the clock, apparently seconds apart, yet every time she does an hour has passed.
  • In Millennium, author Jose Chung is shown suffering from this.
  • In The West Wing, speechwriting can be difficult for both Sam Seaborn and Toby Ziegler. The way the latter deals with writer's block gives good comedic fodder, as when he sets sheets of paper on fire and when he gets drunk on Air Force One trying to write a eulogy for a Republican President he loathes. There's also the pink rubber ball.
  • Black Books, in the episode in which Bernard and Manny try to write a children's book, plays this one straight.

Newspaper Comics
  • In FoxTrot, Roger wants to write a novel. There are a few strips where he's struggling to come up with an idea and Andy gets annoyed at how long he's taking, and then he names the trope Her Code Name Was Mary Sue (not literally, but he writes the Trope Namer).

Theatre
  • It's not really a montage, per se, but 1776 shows an 18th-century version of the process with Jefferson's inability to write the first draft of the Declaration of Independence — right down to the discarded blank sheet.

Webcomics


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