Sometimes it's hard to keep up progress on a novel. Time issues aside, we all come to a place in the narrative that's hard to get through, or we need a mental break from the current plot device we're desperately trying to make just right. And at some moments we just become downright discouraged, and may not touch the manuscript for weeks.
But when writing a novel, it's important to stay immersed, especially if you're world building. Here are some ways I'm planning on staying involved with my world, even when I'm not directly working on the novel.
1. Short stories - I'm in a writing group and we collectively participate in short story contests from time to time. It's a practice we value, and I think it's important to take a chance and get my writing out there, but it sure does take away from my novel-writing time...or does it? The great thing about building worlds, or cities, or even a small school, is the potential for more stories. Think about Harry Potter's world, and how much can be done with that. Or the history Tolkien fleshed out for Middle Earth. In a well-rounded world, a great variety of tales can take place. There's no reason why a short story written for a Murder/Mysteries contest can't take place in Pens, the name of my fictional southern town. What about if I need an alien invasion? Well, Pens sounds like a great place to start, and I know a few residents who will give E.T. a warm welcome. Ultimately, these stories might not have a place in my novel but can still act as backstory or history for some of the characters or Pens as a whole. At the very least, it will let me continue to keep my head in the world I'm building, which is of utmost importance in creating something organic and consistent.
2. Novel blog/Journal. I keep a writing blog where I post various short stories, thoughts on writing, and random stuff from my life. I just recently decided to chronicle the development of my latest novel from start (well, sort of....I'm about 15k words in already) to finish. The plan is to post reflections after I've written certain scenes and to share various information about Pens and the characters in it. If I'm in a writing slump, I'll talk about why, or if I think some historical nuance of Pens is particularly interesting, I'll share. I see this as a motivation to reflect on what I've written and how the writing process is going, as well as a reason for me to produce a hell of a lot of backstory. Which brings me to my next point...
3. Character/Setting Profiles. As you may (or may not) see on my blog, I'm going to be adding character profiles, and the plan is to expand with detailed information on the structure of Pens. Most of you probably aren't new to this, but I am (usually I just jot down notes here and there). Obviously, I don't want to give away too much of the story over the internet, but I think writing character backstory and personality traits (and maybe even a brief introduction to their role in the current narrative) should be enough to wet the appetitites of potential readers. I have a map of Pens I've drawn out that I'm planning to post. Periodically I will take my readers on a 'tour' of Pens, and stop at a random bakery or barber shop, and explore what history can be found there. Again, maybe it won't all make it into the novel, but it will help Pens feel real to me, and ultimately to my readers.
4. Newspaper - My novel is set in a fictional town based off of Martinsville, Virginia, where most of my family is from. I spent my summers there as a child and visit about once a year. Now I live in Oakland. So how, you ask, am I going to accurately portray southern Virginia life when I'm so far removed? Besides from the typical devices available to me (research on town history, visits, talks with family who are already there, my own memories, etc, etc, etc), I'm going to read the newspaper. Yep. The Martinsville Bulletin has a website, and it boasts obituaries, weddings, sports events, classifieds, school menus, and information about the results of the latest pie making contest. Oh, and it also has regular news. It's not as good as being there, but keeping up with the local news will help to keep me in the 'Virginia' mindset, and should spark some good material to use in my creation of Pens. And it's fairly easy to do on a daily basis.
These are just some of the things I hope will help me stay involved in the city and characters I'm setting out to create, even if some of the details have nothing to do with the storyline I'm currently working on. These may be no-brainers to some of you, but I hope others find value.
As always, let me know thoughts!