Incremental Writing: A SimpleGuru Summary
I recommend that you watch my video on incremental reading or read the article version if you haven't already. Incremental writing and incremental reading are complementary and opposite processes; it's difficult to talk about one without the other!
Incremental reading and incremental writing are opposite processes in the sense that they proceed in opposite "directions": in incremental reading you break down articles into extracts and flashcards, while in incremental writing you take extracts and flashcards and build them back into articles! But they are also complementary in the sense that incremental reading creates the extracts and flashcards that you will later incrementally recombine into new articles in incremental writing! ^7cc18f
Rather than treating incremental reading and incremental writing as separate, I view them as two process entwined in an ongoing cycle of destruction and creation. ^fa9d96
When I do incremental reading, I am like a knowledge goblin with a pickaxe, chipping away at an article or book, looking for the golden nuggets that I can extract and refine into atomic flashcards to be reviewed over time with spaced repetition. I think of the destruction phase as the "ascending" phase of the process: the number of individual pieces of information you have grows as the input articles and books are decomposed and split into fragments. ^0e891d
The process is similar to what Colonel Boyd describes in his paper on the cycle of destruction and creation in concept formation:
Rather than remaining attached to their parent articles, extracts and flashcards are left to float around freely in the "sea of anarchy" of your learning queue. The decontextualised extracts and flashcards are randomly interleaved with topics spanning the entire spectrum of knowledge stored in your collection. While some worry about "losing the bigger picture", I argue that the separation between article extracts and their original context is essential if your goal is to create new ideas and concepts, as opposed to merely regurgitating what you've read.
Incremental writing can be thought of as the opposite of incremental reading. The knowledge goblin takes the golden nuggets it mined while incremental reading and throws them into the forge to be melted down and mixed together with other ideas and concepts. Gradually, individual nuggets blend back into a comprehesive whole, and at the end of the process you are left with a solid gold bar of an article that you can share into the world. ^bf1182
I think of the creation phase as the "descending" phase of the process. The number of individual pieces of information decreases as the parts are incrementally re-consolidated into a comprehensive whole.
Through reviewing the extracts and flashcards in the "sea of anarchy" of your learning queue, you notice similarities between some of the individual pieces. You begin to group extracts and flashcards with similar themes together, not reassembling old articles like a jigsaw puzzle, but mixing and combining parts from many different sources, adding your own ideas and observations, creating an entirely new quality. You group disjoint particulars into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters and so on. Gradually, you build back towards a "comprehensive whole".
One of the major complaints learners have when using a spaced repetition system or incremental reading is that breaking things down into atomic parts can cause them to "lose the bigger picture". But to the extent that this is actually the case, I believe it is a good thing! In order to create concepts that are novel and generate ideas with a new quality, you must first destructively decompose old articles and concepts into their underlying particulars, and then recombine them into new articles and concepts.
Here is a general recipe for incremental writing. Remember that all of these stages take place incrementally over potentially very long periods of time. They might not take place precisely in this order, this is just a general idea of the process.
If you would like to see an example of the process in action, check out this video where I commentate an incremental reading and writing session.
"Creative elaboration is a process in which creativity is used to expand knowledge by new ideas without the need for new information input. In creative elaboration, new knowledge is helpful, but it is not necessary." - Piotr Wozniak in his article on Creative Elaboration.
Incremental writing allows you to make dentritic progress at the frontiers of your prior knowledge by giving you time to sleep, consolidate memories using spaced repetition and create new generalizations that support the creative process.
"Writing a book in a month is realistic as long as it is based on a degree of reuse of ready materials." - Piotr Wozniak
By working incrementally on paragraph-sized chunks, you can easily refactor and reuse old ideas in new articles. Rather than starting each new article from scratch, you can use old paragraphs as a base and add in the new ideas and generalizations you have arrived at since you last read them.
By recycling your articles back into the cycle of destruction and creation you ensure that your core beliefs both remain internally consistent and match up with reality over time.
By combining with incremental reading, the inputs to your articles can come from many different sources. The choice of what you choose to include in your articles is based on recognizing relations between disconnected elements floating in the "sea of anarchy" of your learning queue. You do not reassemble the extracts from the input articles back into their original forms like a jigsaw puzzle, rather you mix and combine the constituent parts into something completely new and unique.
"Texts written for linear reading, like books, need additional effort at re-assembly and "gluing" into a coherent linear structure. Texts written for linear reading may turn out repetitive with some key ideas showing up in different contexts." - Piotr Wozniak
I think there are very few disadvantages to incremental writing as long as you don't have a deadline. Deadlines tend to ruin the ability to incrementally develop ideas over time, and force you to write in a more linear fashion.