Incremental writing



SuperMemo can be used in the process of creative writing, which combines two processes:

  1. writing texts and
  2. creative review and elaboration.

Both processes are based on incremental reading. By analogy to incremental reading, this process is called incremental writing.

The technique of incremental writing was used to compile some of the materials at Most notably, Good sleep, good learning, good life (2012), and the present Incremental learning (2013) article.

The main difference between traditional writing and incremental writing is that the writer is free to re-organize the material and review it with incremental reading tools.

The main difference between incremental reading and incremental writing is that the "big picture" of the article is built primarily within the collection, and to a lesser extent in the writer's mind. This is suitable for large fact-packed material that is difficult to organize sequentially. In addition, one's own writing may be the source of most input, as opposed to external electronic sources. Incremental writing is also suitable in a compilation of a large body of prior writing, esp. of materials that are repetitive, fact-rich, and often loosely connected. Incremental writing is less useful for texts with a linear line of thought.

Incremental article writing is an open-ended process that can be interrupted at any stage for the article to be exported to as a single document for text-flow rewrites.

Articles written using incremental writing may be particularly suitable for incremental reading. They can be compared to Wikipedia. Crowdsourced Wikipedia is an excellent source for incremental reading due to its incremental growth and solid local context. For the exactly same reasons, materials compiled with incremental writing are highly suitable for incremental reading. They may be bloated and repetitive, however, with incremental reading, they can be prioritized in a rational way. Incremental writing leaves the texts highly granular and the flow of thought is jagged, however, in incremental reading, this is an advantage as all individual articles and subarticles carry sufficient local context to be read independently.

Incremental writing algorithm

The incremental writing algorithm involves the steps presented below. Note, however, that these steps are not executed one after another. All steps are executed incrementally and interleaved in unpredictable sequences that assist the creative process. Unpredictable association of text component is also useful in:

  1. the development of the logical structure of the text,
  2. the elimination of contradictions, and
  3. deleting/reconciling the repetitive material.

The steps involved in incremental writing:

  1. import all the relevant sources, supplementary material, and supporting knowledge to a single SuperMemo collection
  2. build a knowledge tree branch at the root of the collection with the desired structure of the article (e.g. name this branch ARTICLE)
  3. keep all the supplementary material in a separate branch (e.g. TO DO)
  4. review the ARTICLE branch incrementally, rewrite, improve, and rebuild the tree structure to organize a logical entirety
  5. add figures, citations, links, etc.
  6. review the TO DO branch incrementally, copy and paste, or move incrementally processed texts from the TO DO branch to the ARTICLE branch in the tree. Attach snippets to the right branches in the tree. Reschedule and re-prioritize less relevant texts. Delete texts that will be of no use in the final article
  7. use incremental learning. This implies that you will see articles from ARTICLE and TO DO branches interleaved in unpredictable sequences moderated only by material priority. Always work on the topic that comes next. Do as little as necessary or as much as you like it. You can finish the processed topic in one go, or you can just pass a single sentence and reschedule
  8. use 'Mercy to re-distribute the excess of the material in manageable portions
  9. use templates to visually indicate the status of individual portions of the article (e.g. "to write", "to expand", "to rewrite", "to review", "finished", etc.)
  10. branches that bloat beyond manageability can be treated in the same way as the entire article with subset review, tree reorganization, topic extraction and merging, etc.
  11. once the job is largely completed, or a deadline looms, export the article branch with Export : Document (on the contents menu), which also automatically adds a table of contents

Incremental writing example #1

Let us consider Good sleep, good learning, good life (2012) as an example. The source material for the article included its decade-old original version, several articles related to sleep and published at, as well as a great deal of basic knowledge taken from various scholarly sources involved in sleep research. Those materials were supplemented with the review of knowledge of sleep from a general knowledge collection compiled by the author. The whole process started from a massive review of the entire material with incremental learning. The construction of a rough outline of the structure of the article proceeded in parallel (in the Contents window). Supplementary materials were imported to fill in or complement individual pieces of knowledge. Figures, annotations, links, and literature citations were also processed incrementally in order of priority. This process quickly resulted in an article bloat, however, this was a bloat of valuable information rather than a bloat of excess writing. Towards the end of the process, individual topics from SuperMemo were imported to a single-page wiki. Some manual wikification was necessary at that step. Alternatively, multi-page wikis, blogs, or plain-HTML sites could have been used as the target of exports from SuperMemo.

Incremental writing example #2

The presented article: Incremental learning (2013) has been compiled from a number of older articles on incremental reading, priority queue, incremental video, visual learning, as well as older articles such as Devouring knowledge, Flow of knowledge in SuperMemo, FAQ pages, SuperMemopedia, etc.

Advantages of incremental writing

The most tangible advantages of incremental writing in SuperMemo are:

Fun of writing boosts efficiency

When the fun of writing is gone, the writer's block can ensue. SuperMemo makes writing fun as compared to traditional methods (e.g. writing in a word processor). If you are in no mood to write about one topic today, you might be more inclined to try something else. If you are in no mood for writing anything, tackle some minor clean up jobs. Very often, once you start writing, you get sucked into the effort and the mood returns. A piece of information can trigger new ideas. If it happens in your writing slot, you can instantly write down new ideas. You can write them rough and short. But you need to write them instantly. If you keep waiting, the memory of the inspiration whittles down to just the need to write about a subject! This is how forgetting affects your own ideas! Strike the iron while it's hot. Process inspiration incrementally, and pick the pieces that raise most enthusiasm at any given moment. Those pieces will generate most new creative value.

Creative explosion vs. deadlines

Excess creativity and wish to include valuable information or ideas may cause an unstoppable bloat of writing materials and a never-ending writing loop. It is vital to keep all ideas well prioritized in a TO-DO branch, while the article grows independently in the ARTICLE branch.

Separating TO-DO from ARTICLE is the best solution that makes it easy to cut off the writing process at any stage depending on the writing goals, opportunity costs, and/or deadlines. Whatever is left in the TO-DO branch can be processed later or not at all. As long as strict priorities are applied, loss of value to the main article should be minimized.

Disadvantages of incremental writing

Incremental writing will always be superior over linear writing for a class of non-fiction texts, however, the toolkit is difficult to master, and the strategies are not obvious. This is a new set of techniques that requires a high degree of innovative thinking on the part of the author. This is why we do not expect any significant degree of adoption at the moment. Incremental writing should primarily be considered by authors who are already masters of incremental reading.