There is a way to look at your work as a writer which you may not have considered, or perhaps only thought of subconsciously.
To try to illustrate what I mean, I’ll use one of my own approaches. As you may know, I write a daily blog, now approaching its fourth year without skipping a day. There’s a bit of a qualifier in that, though: a quarter of the blog’s posts are promotional, merely suggesting that people buy some of my books — but that still means that three quarters of the blog’s articles are original material of some kind, whether they are to do with the field of writing (which form that vast bulk of the items) or occasionally commenting on education or even economics or business. I have written a free e-book about how to keep a daily blog, which you can get here — and that is an example of what I’m getting at. The free e-book was put together from several blog items written over a period of time. The same thing applies to several other of my books: The Seven Levels of Attention was likewise constructed from a series of blog articles, which I then took, refined and embellished to turn them into a 92-page fully illustrated e-manual (which you can get here). My book Myth & the ‘Now’ was also made up of many blog articles, edited and expanded upon later to form a cohesive book.
I’m not chiefly trying to sell you these things here (though they are designed for you and I think you’d benefit from them). My point is that, in transforming one’s life into that of a professional writer, one could do worse than taking this long view and wasting nothing. It’s all part of building a world around your writing. If you have written, say, a series of short stories which have perhaps been rejected, don’t throw them away — review them after a few months and see if you can either rework them or weave them into a common narrative. Examples of this abound: Thomas Hardy’s Wessex Tales consists of several short stories which have in common their setting in England’s 19th century south-west region; David Bowmore’s The Magic of Deben Market similarly intertwines several short stories around a place. But it’s not just setting that I mean. I’m talking about all of your work as a writer being saved, reworked, reviewed, reissued, to form a common whole.
Tolkien, as another example, wrote dozens of stories based in his created universe of Arda, of which Middle-earth was just a part, including the children’s tale The Hobbit, before, over a fourteen year period, putting together the work for which he is most famous, The Lord of the Rings.
Try to regard all of your work as belonging to an opus, a large-scale artistic work, unified perhaps by nothing more than your voice, or at times by things like setting or theme. Waste nothing: even the most rejected tale might be able to serve as part of a wider story. Even a piece you’re not happy with yourself might throw light in what you are trying to achieve as a whole.
As I say, this might not be something you have considered. You might be focused on the next deadline, the next submission, the next story, your ‘grand novel’ or the next book in a series you’re writing. You’re probably not focused on the larger symphony which all these things together might be bringing into being.
So ‘worldbuilding’ in this sense means building your own written world, your own interconnected universe of tale-telling. You can see in the works of Steve Carr, as another example, how certain themes, certain glimpses of settings and vignettes of character, could be interlinked. Reading a collection like Sand, for instance, one develops the impression of a whole world full of shadows and emotion and lost, wandering characters, all with a human heart. Carr’s other collection, written for young adults, tells the tales of Talker Knock but in a world which brings many elements together, all of the same note. James Joyce’s collection Dubliners, as the title suggests, brings to life the city of Dublin from many different angles and forms a little world for us to enter and appreciate; Le Guin’s science fiction novels over a period of years, as we saw in an earlier article, revolve loosely around a universe with a common anthropological history.
The emphasis in almost all of these cases isn’t on the world itself, but helps to construct a framework or lens through which a larger whole can be viewed.
I hope you can see what I mean. Everything you do has value, even if in an immediate way it’s a lesson in how not to do something; each piece you put together can be part of a large jigsaw puzzle, which the reader seeks more of even if you are not consciously assembling it yourself.
Think long-term; think developing voice; think worldbuilding.