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Writer's Block

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Hobbes isn't a fan of Visual Puns.

"He had writer's block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life."
Harlan Ellison referring to Isaac Asimov (writer or editor of more than 500 books and an estimated 9,000 letters and postcards)

Someone struggles with putting pen to paper and can't get their thoughts out. Regardless of whether it's something as simple as a school report or as complex as a full-length novel, they just can't bring themselves to write what they want.

This tends to involve one of two things: either someone tackling a temporary writing assignment, or someone who writes for a living. Often, to get past it, the person in question has to overcome some kind of mental block in order to continue writing. A "No More Holding Back" Speech may happen as the character breaks their restraints and moves forward.

In these cases, it rarely crops up more than once in a work. In the former, this is because the task of writing is never mentioned again — it's a subplot or single episode plot only. In the latter, once overcome, said writer never runs into that obstacle again.

Occasionally, the whole thing will be lampshaded, sometimes with some sort of Visual Pun.

Can be caused by being Too Upset to Create. May result in a Last-Minute Project, and can lead to An Aesop. Writer's Block Montage is a subtrope. See Fictional Document and Most Writers Are Writers. Do not confuse this with our Writer's Block forum section.

For a work written about the writer's own writer's block, see "How I Wrote This Article" Article.

This is very much Truth in Television. Writing is not always easy; just ask any Real Life author.

This problem can affect visual artists as well, in which case it's called Art(ist's) Block. Put the two forms together and you get Schedule Slip and Webcomic Time.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Akito Takagi from Bakuman。, as the writer of the main characters' manga duo "Muto Ashirogi," experiences this while trying to make a battle manga over summer break. He is best at deep and dark stories, mostly non-mainstream. When tasked with creating a mainstream battle manga over the summer, he fails to deliver.
  • In Girls Beyond the Wasteland, Buntarou suffers this a few times. The first time he's told to just write, and eventually manages to write enough material for the others to work with. Later on, he goes through another bout, which then forces the others to lock him in his room and preventing him from escaping through the window, or distracting himself with the internet. He gets through this after Yuuka talks to him a little bit while he's in the bath.
  • The Gods Lie: Natsuru Nanao's mother Ritsuko is a Starving Artist struggling to write light novels, but each time we see her writing one, she is suffering from this. Natsuru exploits this to play hooky with his soccer camp; he suggests that he spend the nights during the camp at his grandpa's so that Ritsuko will have fewer distractions while writing, but he actually plans to spend all that time at Suzumura's.
  • In HeartCatch Pretty Cure!, Tsubomi and Erika aid inspiring mangaka Ban, who is stuck on a portion of his doujinshi about the Cures. In his story, Blossom had fallen in love with a handsome young man (who looks like a fusion of Ban and Itsuki) and Marine decides to help her out. However, Marine ends up falling for him as well, setting up a Love Triangle. Ban has absolutely no idea how to solve the problem. Tsubomi and Erika end up acting out the logical solution - that Blossom and Marine decide that their friendship and duty is much more important than a guy.
  • Happens to Nakuru in episode 13 of Mayo Chiki!. After a boy confesses his love to her, she gets very confused by it as she feels she's not the type to attract boys, since she's a Mega Nekko and obsessed Doujinshi writer/artist of BL manga. She then asks Jiro out on a date to see if it's simply because of her big boobs, and after he helps her by barely resisting her advances, she seems to snap out of her block. But then she also has a Love Epiphany when she looks at him afterward as well, and hilariously runs away.
  • In R.O.D the TV: Nenene has been experiencing writer's block for 4 years after Yomiko suddenly disappeared from her life. The presence of the paper sisters in her house eventually helps her overcome it, which is what her editor intended by hiring them to stay at her place.
  • Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi:
    • When Chihaya is stuck on new ideas for her manga, she lets Yoichi read one of them, and he tells her that it's very interesting. She then gets excited, and in order to get some new ideas, decides to flirt with him a little bit. Although he lets her down gently, she laughs and says she was just joking about it, then her sister Ibuki walks in, and Chihaya jokingly lies and says that Yoichi was trying to strip her. Hilarity Ensues as Yoichi gets chased by Ibuki.
    • After seeing some of Chihaya's classmates mock her hard work and trash her illustrations, then talk about not wanting to do anything with their lives, Yoichi beats them up for their lack of motivation, as well as their attempts to put down others who are trying to do something with their lives. His actions inspire some more ideas for her manga as a result.
  • In The Summer You Were There, Shizuku Hoshikawa, at the suggestion of her classmate Kaori Asaka, begins work on a story about their romance together, all the while having a pretend romantic relationship with Kaori. Midway through the series, Kaori is hospitalized, and Shizuku continues to write their story and visit her every day to show it to her. Unfortunately, Shizuku gets to the point at which she struggles to reconcile the Kaori in the story(who isn't sick) with the real Kaori now that she's learned how the latter isn't as cheerful as she seems, resulting in her progress grinding to a halt for the moment, although she eventually regains her momentum.

    Comic Books 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Invoked in the comic Smoke and Shadow. Gene said that after "The Search", a lot of fans wrote in tons of mail regarding Azula, with good points on keeping her a villain versus her finding peace and redeeming herself for earlier actions. Because of this, the writers found themselves at a standstill for what direction to take Azula. Zuko in the comic lampshades this by telling his mother "I don't know what it would take to make Azula happy."
  • Fables: The Great Fables Crossover centered around return of the leader of The Literals - race of Anthropomorphic Personifications of literary concepts - The Writer, who had the power to change reality according to what he wrote. Having decided that the world ran out of control since his disappearance, he wanted to fix it...only to meet his brother, Writer's Block, whose existence made him unable to write. For most of the story, he consults Literals embodying different genres, trying to find a way to get rid of his writer's block without having to murder his brother.
  • Justica Society Of America: Jonathan Law (Tarantula) struggled with both this and alcoholism in JSA: The Golden Age.
  • 'Mazing Man In Issue 5, Denton gets writer's block, and the main story is all his friends coming over and telling him stories to put in the comic. This issue came out without The Comics Code stamp of approval because one of the stories told to Denton concerns zombies, which was a no-no.
  • The Sandman (1989): The volume "Dream Country" includes the story "Calliope", about a writer whose first book was a critical smash, but who has writer's block so badly that he can't even start on the follow-up book. He is given the Muse Calliope, and by keeping her captive and raping her repeatedly, he is inspired to great writing. When asked to release her, the writer complains that he won't have any ideas without her presence, so Morpheus grants him an unending stream of ideas — there are so many and they come so fast that he goes mad trying to even write them down.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes lampshades this by having Calvin make a physical writer's block... one that prevents anyone from using his desk.
  • The Far Side
    • One strip depicted the "mad scientist's block", with a mad scientist scribbling down and crossing out numerous evil ideas on a chalkboard.
    • One strip has Herman Melville trying to come up with a name for the narrator in the first chapter of Moby-Dick ("Call me Bill", "Call me Al", "Call me Larry", "Call me Warren"). A similar cartoon instead has Edgar Allan Poe with thrown-away drafts titled things like "The Tell-Tale Spleen", "The Tell-Tale Stomach", "The Tell-Tale Bladder", and "The Tell-Tale Kidney".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • This is the story behind the film Adaptation.. The screenwriter got writer's block trying to adapt a book without a story into a film and ended up writing a story about a screenwriter with writer's block who is trying to adapt a book without a story into a film.
  • Barton Fink: The movie is about a writer suffering from writer's block, written by The Coen Brothers as a way of getting around a bout of writer's block on another project.
  • Best Seller. A former detective has made a name for himself writing true crime stories, but his writing in on the wane until a man claiming to be a Professional Killer offers to tell all about the assassinations he carried out for a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • Christopher Walken's character in Communion suffers from it but eventually overcomes the blockade.
  • Deconstructing Harry: writer's block is one of the symptoms of the title character's depression. And his full (meaningful) name is Harry Block.
  • This happens to Serendipity in Dogma when she leaves Heaven and becomes human. She at least appreciates the irony of the situation.
    Rufus: What are you doing stripping?
    Serendipity: You remember why I left, right?
    Rufus: You were tired of doing all the work and getting none of the credit for your ideas.
    Serendipity: So, I opted to quit being a muse. I gave my two weeks notice, got a body, fifty bucks, and got sent out into the world to seek my fortune.
    Bethany: So, what happened?
    Serendipity: Writer's block. Can you believe it? Me, a muse for God's sake! I can inspire anyone I meet and give out a zillion and nine ideas a second, but I can't keep any for myself. Her quirky sense of humor.
  • The visual equivalent in The Dragon Painter. Tatsu's love for Ume-ko renders him unable to paint.
  • Satirical short film Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life has Franz Kafka utterly stuck on the very first line of what will become The Metamorphosis, unable to decide what Gregor Samsa should transform into. He keeps balling up and tossing away the first pages, which litter the floor of his apartment.
  • Funny Farm: The main character moves to a small rural town to write a book. Then he just stares at his typewriter until he falls asleep.
  • In Her Alibi, Blackwood is suffering from a long dry spell in his writing. To resolve it, he goes to the local courthouse to watch the criminal trials and mine ideas, and it's there he meets the enigmatic Nina, who stands accused of murder, and decides to give her an alibi so he can use her presence to fuel the premise of his book.
  • If You Believe: The movie's protagonist Susan is a jaded book editor. One of her star writers Dylan suffers from a long depression or some other mental breakdown and is currently off medication. He has written two third's of a brilliant novel and knows what to do with the rest, but he cannot bring himself to finish it.
  • Jack from Magic in the Water is trying to write a book about psychiatry. He spends most of his time staring at a Word document that contains only the words "Chapter 1."
  • On the Rocks: A key background character point about Laura (Rashida Jones’s character) is that she is a writer who is clearly blocked at the moment because of stress and concerns about her marriage.
  • Joan Wilder, the romance novelist who is the heroine of Romancing the Stone, comes up against this problem in the sequel Jewel of the Nile. Now that she's actually met, romanced, and sailed off into the sunset with the hero, what comes next? This naturally affects her writing, so the movie begins with Joan pitching her typewriter overboard after she's unable to resolve a Cliffhanger in her latest novel.
  • Author Calvin Weir-Field, until he's urged to write down his dreams about Ruby Sparks.
  • Secret Window: Protagonist Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) has difficulty writing the ending to his novel. At first, it seems this is brought on simply because he's recently had a divorce, has alcoholic tendencies and is generally neglecting himself. Then a creepy guy shows up and things turn a different way. Let's just say that at a re-watch, the Writer's Block can be viewed entirely differently.
  • Shakespeare in Love shows that even The Bard had this problem. Fortunately he encounters a Sweet Polly Oliver who becomes his muse, inspiring what will become his most famous work Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter.
  • The Shining: The fact that Jack is a writer who is suffering severely from writer's block is the reason the family goes to the hotel in the first place.
  • Also the plot of Stranger Than Fiction, where Karen Eiffel has a case of it in trying to kill Harold Crick, the main character. Her publisher assigns her an "assistant" to prod her along.
  • Swimming Pool: The story revolves around a middle-aged English mystery author, who is having writer's block that is impeding her next book.
  • True Memoirs of an International Assassin: As Sam is a writer, he runs into this periodically as he tries to puzzle out the most plausible scenario for his hero to make it through. While he does that, his characters are shown just wandering around waiting for something to happen.

  • The main protagonist of Bag of Bones is a writer suffering from it after the death of his wife.
  • In The City of Dreaming Books, the most perfect piece of writing is a short story about the author dealing with writer's block.
  • Jinx High: During the first lecture in Diana's writing seminar, she bashes Writer's Block pretty hard.
  • Jo March of Little Women always wears a cap when she writes in the attic. Her family has learned that if they ever see her not wearing it, it means she flung it off in a fit of despair from this trope, and nobody who values their life should approach her until it's back on!
  • In The Plague, Joseph Grand starts writing a story about a woman on horseback but never gets past the first line, which he keeps rewriting by changing around the adjectives.
  • Sam the Cat: Detective:
    • In The Maltese Kitten, John D. O'Shaughnessy struggles to get started on the sequel to his bestselling crime novel, mainly due to being threatened with eviction by his landlord.
    • In The Great Catsby, Rex Trout struggles to write a single sentence of his tell-all novel. Instead, Rex has been blackmailing people afraid he'll put them in the book, planning to run off with their money and the advance payment from his publisher.
  • A crippling case strikes one of the supporting characters in David Lodge's novel Small World.
  • A researcher once published a peer-reviewed journal article entitled "The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of Writers' Block". Everything except the title was blank.

  • Wither by Dream Theater is about writer's block.
  • "Bleed It Out" by Linkin Park is often interpreted to be about self-mutilation, but is really about how many revisions the song's writing went through.
    Yeah, here we go for the hundredth time
    Hand grenade pins in every line
    Throw 'em up and let something shine
    Going out of my fucking mind
  • Pearl Jam closes Binaural with the hidden track "Writer's Block", which was something Eddie Vedder faced during production. It's self-demonstrating: the sound of a typewriter being hit at random.
  • Nirvana's "On a Plain" combines Kurt Cobain's usual Word Salad Lyrics with a few that show that song was him winging it ("I'll start this off without any words", "What the hell am I trying to say?", "It's now time to make it unclear, to write up rhymes that don't make sense").
  • One interpretation of "Best Friend" by Foster the People (supported by Word of God) is that it's about the fleeting nature of creativity and artistic inspiration.
    Feelings sleeping in the field again
    But I can feel, I can feel, I can feel it's beginning to end
    Yeah, premonitions smiling in the dark
    Well, I can see, I can see, I can see the story's starting to arc

    Live-Action TV 
  • Castle: The first episode has the eponymous mystery novelist kill off his most popular character and struggle when trying to write something. After helping the police solve a case connected to his novels, he makes an arrangement that allows him to tag along on Detective Kate Beckett's investigations for material to use in his books and ends up using Beckett as the basis for his new character.
  • In the Diagnosis: Murder episode "Write, She Murdered", mystery author Kay Ludlow finds herself with such a bad case that she only has one page of her latest book written... when the thing is meant to be 300 pages long and due by that Friday. Her agent mockingly suggest Kay kill someone and see how the cops solve it for inspiration, which she thinks is a great idea. Cue a letter opener to the agent's chest.
  • FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman': In the episode "That Doesn't Float My Boat", Ruff has a case of "Game Show Host Block", meaning that he can't come up with a challenge for Fetchers. He ends up falling asleep and left the water in the bathtub running. After Ruff wakes up to discover his doghouse flooded with Floating Jumk and Squeaky Toys, it game him the perfect idea for the episode's challenge.
  • In a two-part episode of The Golden Girls, Blanche wants to write romance novels based on her life experiences, but doesn't know where or how to begin. What follows is one of the best exchanges on the show; here it is.
  • Million Yen Women: Shin, who writes for a living, struggles with it early in the series. His family situation is complicated enough that it would be more surprising if he wasn't suffering from it.
  • The Sandman, "Calliope": Richard Madoc is a writer with one successful novel to his name, and a contract for a second, which is now several months overdue. He's so stuck he hasn't yet written a single word of it. One scene shows him sitting down determinedly to write, staring hopelessly for a while at the blank page in front of him, and then succumbing to the distractions of social media and television.
  • Shining Vale: Pat hasn't written a second book in 17 years prior to the start of the series and she tries to complete one after moving to her new home.
  • In series 1 of Spaced Daisy has aspirations of being a writer, but struggles with writer's block/lack of motivation and comes up with distractions for herself. This is highlighted in the last episode of season 1, where during an argument, Tim references several of the plots of previous episodes (to the backdrop of Tekken 2):
    Daisy: I am not avoiding work!
    Tim: Oh right OK, oh well, ooh let's have a party, ooh let's do some theater, ooh let's get a dog, ooh let's spend hours in front of our bedroom mirror BOGLING TO ASWAD!
    Daisy: That was research!
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Personal Demons", the veteran television writer Rockne O'Bannon is suffering from severe writer's block. He admits to his friend and neighbor Herman Gold that he has not had an original idea in 20 years. Shortly afterwards, he begins seeing strange, hooded creatures everywhere he goes that no one else can see. When he finally confronts them, they tell Rockne to write about them and he will never see them again. As soon as he starts typing, they begin to disappear.
  • Voyagers!: In "Jack's Back", when the story starts, Arthur Conan Doyle has written only A Study in Scarlet and is unable to come up with anything further.
  • The West Wing:
    • Sam is told by Leo to write a birthday message for a minor official, a busywork task that would normally go to a junior staffer. When the President sends it back for a second draft, Sam starts to obsess over it and winds up roping in Toby to "nail it." The shot of him scrunching a paper in his fist and pounding it on the desk shows up in one of the 'previouslies' next season.
    • Toby, as a result of massive writing fatigue and nerves, falls victim to this on Bartlet's second inaugural address. He deals with it by setting his failed attempts on fire right there in his office.

  • 1776: Jefferson has considerable trouble with the Declaration, to the consternation of Adams.
    John Adams: Do you mean to say that it is NOT YET FINISHED?
  • In Bells Are Ringing, Jeffrey Moss almost kills himself struggling to write a play on his own and not getting anywhere.
  • Happens with Rodolfo in the first act of La Bohème just before Mimì first knocks on his door. Rodolfo and Marcello are both afflicted by this in the fourth act (which uses the same music).
  • In Hadestown, Orpheus plans to write a song so beautiful it will bring back spring. His inability to finish his song, and fixation on doing so, drives Eurydice away to Hades.
  • Spalding Gray's one-man show Monster in a Box is a ninety-minute account of all of the things that Gray did while he was supposed to be finishing a novel.
  • The stage production of Newsies features a song called "Watch What Happens", centering on Katherine Plumber reflecting on what a great story her piece about the Newsboys Strike is going to be...if only she can figure out what she is doing and how she is going to write it.

    Video Games 
  • Coffee Talk:
    • Freya, your first customer, is a writer that will talk about her recent block. On the next day, she realizes that she wants to write stories inspired by the lives of the clients in the café.
    • In Episode 2, artist's block happens to Rachel in her bad ending. She doesn't feel inspired enough to make a new single with Aremy Jendrew, so she doesn't show the Barista her new song on her second visit.
  • Persona:
    • Persona 5
      • Yusuke claims that his mentor and adoptive father, Madarame, is suffering this at the moment, and Madarame's disciples, Yusuke included, are offering him their work in order to help him overcome it. In reality, Madarame is a plagiarist who has stolen every work he's presented, including his Magnum Opus, and Yusuke is in denial about it.
      • Yusuke himself suffers this as a result of being plagued by doubts over whether it is acceptable to produce art with the expectation of personal gain. His problem is compounded considering that in order to keep his art scholarship, he needs to continue producing art.
    • Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth stars Hikari, an aspiring filmmaker. As a result of severe personal problems, from being ostracized at school to her aunt and uncle disapproving of her pursuits, she eventually snaps and is unable to continue work on her project. She ultimately recovers with the help of the protagonists.
  • In Sticky Business, Carla F. has her own sticker shop like you, but she struggles with a creative block because she believes she has to follow trends in order to make a profit. She then decides to make her own sticker designs, and her new stickers get sold out on the first three days.

    Web Comics 
  • Like Calvin and Hobbes above, El Goonish Shive has a physical big square writer's block show up in some of the non-canon strips. In this case, it's Shive lampshading his own writer's block. And once in-story (sort of). He even made two backgrounds with it.
  • In Dominic Deegan, a variation occurs as one of Gregory's friends suffers from this while trying to write lyrics for a song.
  • Sketch Comedy begins with the author struggling with cartoonist's block. Coming strong right out of the gate!
  • Another literal lampshading: In one VG Cats strip, pantsman is being taunted by one of these.

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs: The episode "Papers for Papa" features Ernest Hemingway, who's having so much trouble writing that he finally swears it off, vowing he will "never again put pen to paper". Naturally, this is just as the Warners show up with a delivery of pens and paper, and insist he sign for it. Finally, they come up with a simple solution that'll still let him keep his oath and hand him a pencil instead, which helps him get past his block.
  • An episode of the Beetlejuice cartoon featured Edgar Allan Poe having writer's block.
  • An episode of Kappa Mikey had Guano getting writer's block, to the point where he can't even type his own name.
  • In season 4 of Metalocalypse, Nathan Explosion undergoes a bad case of songwriter's block. This is particularly bad for him because the economic health of the world is dependent on Dethklok, and Nathan destroyed the master of their next album after a freak storm sank all of the ships transporting the copies. How he gets over his writer's block is perhaps worth mentioning. He's forced into a situation where he either writes a new song on the spot or has to suck off a sultan looking for a new harem. Seems like pretty good motivation.
  • One episode of Muppet Babies (1984) has Gonzo trying to write a story, and has trouble writing, which shows up as a giant writer's block in-story. The solution? Writer's Termites.
  • Poet Smurf dealt with writer's block in The Smurfs (1981) episode "Poet's Writer's Block".


Video Example(s):


Bertie's Writer's Block

Bertie cannot think of the perfect song for the upcoming Uncondemning party.

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Main / WritersBlock

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