(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.
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.