If something is iterative, that something goes through a series of changes, with each new version being called an iteration. The changes involve a two-way system of response, with the reader/audience participating directly in the changes made to each version.
I first encountered this concept when I worked as an administrator at Stanford University, working with computer software programmers. They were always talking about this iteration or that iteration of the computer program.
I would argue that writing also involves an iterative process.
You may question this statement, given the definition of being a writer: A writer sits alone at her computer, writing. She spews words heard in her head onto paper or the screen. Where is the two way process?
I see writing as iterative in two ways: within the writer (who is alone) and between the writer and readers (who are many).
ITERATIVE WITHIN THE WRITER
Within the writer, writing is iterative because the writer is constantly (though not always consciously) making choices based on the writer’s knowledge of the audience’s needs and expectations, the requirements of the genre, the expectations of society, and so on.
As has been argued for years, writing is a social activity even though the writer sits alone while composing the material. The writer is constantly questioning herself about her audience’s expectations, needs, existing knowledge, reading level, familiarity with terms, and so on.
What does the audience expect from this kind of writing? Will they reject the writer and the writing, if the writer makes a controversial statement? Will the writer stir up some action from others? And does the writer want that action stirred up?
For example, when I started writing e-books, my first inclination was to write them as a traditional, printed book: 200 pages, indexed, more formal in tone than a blog post. I quickly learned the impracticality of that viewpoint because the audience had different expectations for e-books, with e-books serving different needs. For one thing, some systems cannot take 200 page e-books. So I learned to change my views, to create a new set of writing rules for e-books.
ITERATIVE WITH READERS
Writing is also iterative between the writer and readers.
Start with those initial readers of the final versions, those who critique the material, giving honest feedback to allow the material to be better. Finding good readers for those critiques is essential for any writer wanting to be taken seriously, for most writers become so mired in their own words and ideas that they cannot see if they are truly effective. I am lucky to have a small group of fellow writers who critique my books before they go to print (or into cyberspace).
Next, the writing changes with comments and expectations from readers along the publishing route, whether self-publishing or the traditionally published. The writing can change drastically with comments from these readers.
And finally, the readers themselves have a say in the writer’s work, in their reviews of the published material, comments on the blog, letters to the writer and publisher about the work.
The writer can react to all of this feedback as she sees fit: ignore it or use it to learn to be an even better writer.
ITERATION IS ACTUALLY ANOTHER WORD FOR VERSION
Creating different versions or iterations of a project is part of the revision process. Consider each iteration a compilation of changes to the project manuscript that indicates a milestone of some kind with the project.
With each version of the writing project — each iteration — I often number each iteration with a Revision number in the file name. That way, I have a record of all of my iterations. Other projects, smaller ones, do not get this treatment.
So you may have files that include the first draft; first iteration that cleaned up the major and obvious problems of duplicated and out-of-sequence content; a second iteration that included all changes made to the content, such as adding definitions and explanations, adding visuals and glossary terms. And so on.
Completing each iteration indicates the completion of specific steps in the revision process. It also often happens when the pages of the hard copy manuscript (which you should use for revision, not the computer screen), are so filled with changes that they must be entered online for the writer to see the true results of the changes.
Let me end with a brief point about revision. Devoting time to revision, going through the manuscript over and over until it reads right, is the sign of a professional writer.
Amateurs write something once, hope it is brilliant, send it out, and suffer disappointment when they hear nothing or rejections as a response.
Professionals know that much of the process of writing involves revision: analyzing and changing the way the writer has organized and developed the ideas in the writing. It also included editing, checking for grammar and usage errors, which is a different stage of the whole writing process.
So there you have it. Writing involves creating iterations. The writer bounces ideas off others in her head and others in the real world, who respond to the writing. Each new iteration marks a milestone of the revision process that has been met. All this iterative activity is meant to make the writing better, and usually it does.