The basic idea of speedwriting is very simple. If we research a subject, read about it, create notes, and memorize everything we need, writing about the subject should be really easy. And if we write about something creatively, remembering it for years after writing also becomes easy. I call this virtuous circle speedwriting.
We read all the time: both as focused research and spontaneous discovery. The hard part of speedwriting is putting everything together – the articles we read may easily appear several years from each other.
So we need to do several things:
- After reading, generate stable memorizations
- Maintain a searchable reading diary
- Prioritize the diary entries
- Group the articles into chunks according to keyword
- Write an article per chunk of articles
- Cross-reference older articles
- Play creativity games (like “what if” or “what else”)
- Generate questions for further reading
This active process almost guarantees quick content generation and stable long-term retention. As an added bonus, the need to revisit mental structures with spaced repetition is dramatically reduced.
I have a course about it:
A must-have skill after memory and speedreading
Usually, I recommend speedwriting to everybody that can read at least 400wpm and reads for at least 60 min per day. It is really a must-have skill. Otherwise, you may end up with a huge amount of poorly processed knowledge – more confused than enlightened.
All great speedreaders are also very prolific writers. Usually, prolific writing predates prolific reading. Typically a person has an idea worth writing about. While writing he discovers misunderstandings and unanswered questions. So he starts reading everything that can help. And that generates further questions, that spark further writing.
You can replace “writing” with other productive activities: pitching, debating, teaching, programming, constructing, and experimenting. Everybody can write, but other skills are more specific. There are some adaptations required which I discuss in other places – but the virtuous cycle remains. It is very hard to be a passionate reader if you have nothing useful to do with what you read.
The stuff we write can be further used: both in gaining influence like blogging and in gaining insight like chunking with newer articles.
Start questioning immediately after reading
The first step of the process is stabilizing the memory structures immediately after reading. We revisit what we remember from the article checking that the ideas are reasonable and connected. If we miss something, we reread that area of the article. A very good dense and complex article may be worth rereading 10 times. Do not reread the entire article – just the sections where the memorization is incomplete, inaccurate, or otherwise strange.
This process is facilitated by asking ourselves follow-up questions or clarification questions and trying to create associative connections with everything else we read so far. The focus is on innovation: what does this particular article add to everything we knew and did so far? Once we understand what we read, and have the structure and the details very clearly in our memory, we can move to the next stage.
Placing N keywords into a diary
I usually describe articles by N~=5 keywords that characterize the field or research and the main contribution of the article. If I encode the article as memory structure, these keywords are usually the anchor markers or recall markers of the memory structure.
Good articles often generate several lines of such keywords – like a matrix. I also keep the link to the original article on the web or on my disk for further review. Online articles may become unavailable, so if you really want to preserve the article it is best to store it locally. The storage structure is not really important, as the access is usually from the reading diary. I work with Google Drive folders mapped to a local disk.
If you need more than 5 words, please use. I never had to use more than 12 words per line, and I never had more than 12 lines per chapter of a book or an article. Not everything you remember is relevant for recall.
Some of the summaries look like mathematical formulas. This is a simple way to create logical markers. Typically I encode sets forming one whole, logical and/not/or operations, aggregation, and causality.
Prioritize diary entries
When I add notes to the reading diary, I usually use color coding to convey the priority. I started without any. Then I added capital letters as notes to myself. Later I added bold for important articles. Red for stuff that is urgent (orange) or I really want to write about (vermillion). Green for the most informative articles. And so on.
Once I add articles to the list I try to see how they work with other stuff I recently read. If I have several important articles with similar keywords, it is a good time for chunking.
Chunking articles for speedwriting
When I chunk articles, I also revisit the memory structures of other articles on similar subjects. I use keyword search and related keyword search. If this is a subject I read a lot about, I will revisit it often. If it is a rare subject, I will not revisit it enough, and may later have to reread it. Rereading a good article after a couple of years is not a bad idea – as with new wisdom and experience we notice things we could not notice earlier.
To write a small article I usually need between 3 and 12 chunked articles. The memory structure I use is 3×3 matrix with the last cell containing a nested 3×3 matrix. To write a book, I usually need a larger structure made of small articles. For example, I can use an 8×8 chessboard structure. To create a system, I typically use a clockface structure with 12 entries, which I try to organize in the most meaningful way, or a star of winds with 8 entries. The actual memory structures I use now will not be the structures I used 3 years ago, and probably will not be the structures I will use 5 years from now.
A typical short article will have 5 parts: an intro, 3 parts of ideas, and a conclusion. When I actually write you will not see this structure as I make several additional steps.
Creative | analytical speedwriting
The writing itself should be easy, as most of the relevant keywords are there, waiting to be rephrased into paragraphs and sections.
This | is an inclusive or (not a xor). When I write, I both analyze again the memory structures that I have and perform some creative steps. I have a separate course on that
Clearly, you can write whatever you want. The purpose is to put in writing the ideas you have from the larger research you performed – primarily to organize your thoughts and make them searchable in the future. Not all inputs are based on your reading. You can use your entire experience. Moreover, you can split and merge inputs from multiple conceptual chunks.
This flexibility is dictated by the way our minds work. Once we start writing, we move information from visual and creative brain centers to more logical and auditory brain areas. This is not a simple move. Everything is reevaluated, getting new insights. The process of getting new insights is probably more important than simply putting the existing ideas in writing. Quite often this involves additional research. So while I usually start with 5 part article, I almost never end there.
Typically after writing, it is best to remove the relevant lines from the reading diary into some sort of long storage archive.
Cross-reference older articles
I am very well aware that the stuff I read 5 years ago will generate a very different impact today, and that my own old articles can be partially forgotten after 5 years. The time constant is less important. The important part is reviewing older works for new insights.
Typically we write our content in a searchable format. As we get some new inputs and keywords, we may rely not just on the new information but also search our previous works and review them critically. The expected effect: better insight into the progress made during the last several years and exposure to creative ideas that failed to be implemented in the past.
Quite often the enabling resources for great ideas appear years after the ideas themselves. It is a good idea to catch the perfect timing for implementing an idea: immediately upon the availability of the enabling resources.
In any case, feedback is a very important part of learning. Long-term memorization implies long-term feedback. Reviewing old articles is a good way to generate such feedback.
Play creativity games
More often than not, when writing, the flow of thoughts is interrupted. We feel that we said what we came to say. Now what? The recommendation is to activate imagination and creativity. There are many tools for that: Pomodoro breaks, questioning, perspectives, what-if, and what-else scenario analysis, and so on. The idea is simple: if the flow of thoughts ended, this does not mean we have nothing more to say. We need to actively encourage further ideas.
Generate questions for further reading
Another feedback mechanism that needs to be used: questions, generating partial answers, and generating more questions. After writing an entire article about something, we are likely to understand that we do not have answers to many questions. Additionally, we may have “a carry” of ideas that do not belong here and could be analyzed in a separate article or research.
The diary of open questions should contain searchable keywords and possibly actionable items. It can be a great tool for further and deeper research.
If you read a lot, you probably need to organize your thoughts and keep the knowledge for years to come. Speedwriting will help you. Consider integrating it with analysis and creativity tools.
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