Don’t know what to write about? Start here…

Hassan S. Ali
4 min readOct 25, 2020

(Or, what improv comedy taught me about writing)

I’m improvising this post. Yup, I have no idea what this post will be about. I just showed up to a blank page and started writing. Here’s the thing:

I don’t know what to write about.

So let’s make this post about that:

What do you do when you don’t know what to write about?

To channel Sully Sullenberger flying that plane onto the Hudson: Hang on folks, I’m gonna try somethin…

The Big Lesson: Say What’s Literally Happening

Let me save you 2 years and thousands of dollars on improv classes for this first lesson: When drawing a blank, say what’s literally on your mind.

One time during improv practice, I met my scene partner on stage. We were supposed to begin a new, completely improvised scene, except… Me: Silence. Them: Silence. Five seconds later, I flashed a panicked look at our teacher.

“I don’t know what to say,” I said.

“Tell her that,” our teacher said.

“Tell her… what?” I asked back.

“Tell her what you literally just told me.”

So we re-set. I meet my scene partner on stage and…

“I don’t know what to say,” I blurt out, looking nervously towards the floor.

“You just squashed a turtle!” she shouted, pointing to the imaginary turtle she’d made up on the floor.

Her reply worked like Drano to unclog my brain.

We went on to build a silly scene around me having such heavy feet that I unwittingly kill animals and destroy property with every innocent step I take.

Comedy gold? Meh. But I never would’ve thought that “I don’t know what to say” would lead us to a police investigation around a mysterious heavy-footed criminal wreaking havoc all over the town’s wildlife. At least that’s something.

“I Feel…”

Cut to another “blank” moment during another rehearsal. Someone directed a line at me and I was caught off guard. I turned to my teacher panicked. (Notice a theme of panic here.)

“I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing,” I said. And like last time, he told me to repeat that in the scene itself.

Hassan S. Ali

I write comedy things. the ha & lol. Also a founding editor of Slackjaw on Medium.