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Writer's Block Montage

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Generally a Discredited Trope nowadays — despite that, aside from the outdated typewriter and the fact that not all writers smoke, the basic idea is close to Truth in Television, right down to the inability to leave the desk before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


Sister Trope to "How I Wrote This Article" Article, when the finished piece of writing is about the experience of the Real Life creator's struggles to come up with something to write.


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     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...

     Films —Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • In Julia, Lillian Hellman goes through one while struggling to write The Children's Hour.
  • At the beginning of Throw Momma from the Train, Larry just can't come up with the right word to complete the first sentence of his new novel. He struggles even harder with it after seeing his book-thieving ex-wife on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
    "'The night was', 'the night was'! 'The night....' 'The night was dry, yet it was raining.' (scoffs) 'The....the...the streets were wet....but the night....was as the earrings in Margaret Donner's ears!' My God! I'M GOIN' OUTTA MY MIND!!"
  • Set It Up gives Harper one as she struggles to finish her piece on the geriatric athletes. She lounges around the apartment and repeatedly looks frustrated at her laptop until her best friend arrives to give her a pep talk.

     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.
  • Magpie Murders: Alan is a mystery writer trying to write a new book. The first scene of the first episode shows Alan struggling with his book, muttering and shouting with frustration, thumbing through an Agatha Christie book for inspiration, and chucking paper across the room as he starts and stops multiple times.
  • In Millennium (1996), 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.
  • Kabaret Hrabi has a sketch in the „Hrabi Dracula” programme that plays this trope for maximum silliness with the writer's (mis)creations coming to life and acting out his feeble plot with all the asides he goes into. Also, puns. Visual Puns.
  • Once on Late Night with David Letterman, a viewer letter challenged David to say something nice about his nemesis Cher. After a writer's block montage (complete with coffee cup, overflowing ashtray, and a long stare out the set's fake skyline window), he came up with: "Cher has never robbed a convenience store." (Only for bandleader Paul Shaffer to hold up the day's New York Post with the headline "Cher knocks over midtown 7-11".)
  • A short version forms the teaser of the NCIS episode "Twisted Sister": McGee is trying to get started on his new novel, but his well of ideas is dry. He types something, shreds the paper, puts in a new sheet, types something, shreds that paper... three or four times before he's interrupted by his neighbor who is angry about the repetitive buzz of McGee's shredder. Then there's one more repetition before McGee's sister Sarah appears at his door, shaking and crying and covered in blood.
  • Happens in Winter Begonia courtesy of Du Qi, the resident long-suffering genius playwrite and journalist.

     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).

  • Bleak Expectations: The second-to-last episode has Pip Bin get into a "novel-off" with Charles Dickens, wherein the two have to stay in a hotel for a year writing a novel. Pip spends most of that year drinking coffee, staring out the window, drinking more coffee, reading through the entire dictionary, drinking some more coffee... by year's end he hasn't actually written anything.

  • 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.



Video Example(s):


Larry Donner

Larry cannot concentrate on his writing on account of his cruel ex-wife plagiarizing his previous work.

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