Writing is a time-consuming endeavor. Especially when you have limited time available for your writing, the last thing you need is to spend that limited time on non-writing tasks. Worldbuilding it not writing. It might be related, but it’s just a background task. It’s one that you need, but it doesn’t put words on the page. But there are ways to do your worldbuilding when you’re not at a keyboard.
Life is filled with downtime, whether it’s an hour-long commute or waiting in line at the coffee shop, you’re not using your brain every waking hour of the day. For shame! Those unused brain cycles can be used for worldbuilding. If you have something going on that does not require your brain’s active attention, divert some of that idle brainpower to looking around you and trying to see how it could apply to your world.
How Could I Use This?
You’re stopped in traffic, waiting as three lanes merge into one, and that one lane is blocked while a 75-ton construction vehicle crosses, guarded by an army of men in orange vests.
If you squint a little, maybe that Caterpillar looks like a giant monster. The orange-vested construction workers are its minions, parasymbiotic humanoid creatures who keep the birds and insects from bothering the monster. They get a share of the food it digs from the earth, since the minions can’t dig as well on their own. You’ve created the Catepelon Beast, and just thought of a way to use that in your world.
What Else Could This Be?
You’re hiking on a mountain trail and a chipmunk crosses your path. It’s a state park, and the local creatures will come quite close to humans before running away. You crouch down as one curious chipmunk approaches within three feet of you before chittering and running away.
What if that chipmunk was delivering a message? Could it be that the faerie realm needs heroic aid, and Astephon the Faerie King sent a legion of chipmunk messengers into the mortal world for aid? You re-envision that chipmunk with emerald eyes and leaving a trails of shimmering dust in its wake as it runs. It can speak any language, so long as the listener has tasted the bounty of the forest. It offers a nut, and kicks it with a hind foot, chittering impatiently for you to eat, so you can understand.
How Would My World Do This?
You’ve fallen and hurt your arm. You’re sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting to have it X-rayed.
Your story world has little that resembles modern technology, and you’ve already decided that magic will not heal wounds. If you were in your own world, the village elders would feel along the bones for breaks. If they found any they could feel, the arm would be splinted with an ox bone and wrapped with aloe-soaked linen. If they find no break, they will scold you for wasting their time, and tell you to get back to work.
Worldbuilding is Everywhere
You live in a working–possibly fictional–world. Most people who read about Earth believe in it. You can use bits and pieces from it to draw parallels to your own world. It has many of the same problems. Many of its inhabitant will have the same basic wants and needs as characters in your world, even if the particulars vary (i.e. wanting eckles instead of dollars, or starwine instead of beer). Look at Earth and try to see bits of your world in it.
Anything that comes out of this that you think just has to get added to you world … write it in. If you need to take a few notes, that’s fine too, but you only need to write it into your story to have it become part of your world. Readers aren’t going to see your notes, your glossaries, and your bestiaries. They just want the story.