The typewriter from the Shining

‘The Shining’s Depiction of Writer’s Block Is One of the Truest Looks at a Real Life Issue Writers Deal With

The Shining is the perfect Halloween movie, and it is the perfect movie to watch if you’re a writer struggling with writer’s block. Mainly because you really understand that feeling. As I am writing this, I’m struggling to put words to the “page,” as it were, and that feels apt for a piece about how The Shining handles Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson)’s writer’s block. This film does it the best, because even other Stephen King adaptations, like Secret Window, glamorize what having writer’s block can feel like.

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In The Shining, we see a slow decent into Jack’s frustrations and his inability to admit that he’s struggling. Jack is a man who is recently sober and brings his family to the Overlook hotel in Colorado to watch over it during the off season. While it is shut down, Jack and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) are in charge of the hotel with their son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Jack is there to write while Wendy kind of runs things.

While Jack is writing all day in the main room, he asks Wendy to leave him alone and she keeps asking him to see his work. We see him throwing things at the wall, staring off in the distance, and not writing a single thing down. The real true chaos comes with the reveal that all Jack has written is “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” in a variation of styles with typos throughout it, because that’s how it sometimes feels when you’re pulling words out of your mind without knowing where they’re taking you.

All work and no play makes all writers dull people.

A close up of Jack Torrence wearing a turtleneck sweater
(Warner Bros.)

Seeing what Jack has written is a horror story for writers, mainly because that’s how it feels when you have writer’s block. It feels like pulling teeth, like words won’t come, and that when they do, they are all a jumbled mess of whatever it is you’re trying to say. Seeing that personified in Jack Torrance, a man that the Overlook Hotel is driving to the brink of insanity, is horrifying. It’s what makes The Shining actually scary. Not the ghosts that Danny can see or the blood pouring out of the elevator doors.

It’s what Jack is slowly slipping into and the fear of those closest to us. That loss of what you’re good at is something that many writers go through. And still, to this day, The Shining is one of the best depictions of writer’s block, and what makes it both so absolutely frustrating for the writer and horrifying for others to witness. Will we all wake up one day to find our writing is just a mix of a script or a poem with the same sentence repeating itself over and over again? Time will tell. Maybe just don’t go to the Overlook Hotel.

(featured image: Warner Bros.)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her current obsession is Glen Powell's dog, Brisket. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.