Writing a novel usually involves generating an extensive amount of imaginative material--mentally and perhaps on paper as well--that will never appear directly in the book itself. This includes character sheets, freewrites, voice explorations, backstory and failed scenes.
Before you touch a match to these reams of paper, consider how some might find second life. After all, you know and love these characters. Some of the events of their lives may not fit within the story arc of your novel, but it doesn't mean those events aren't worth telling. Consider spinning them off as short stories or poems.
If you despair of having no publishing credits, consider how you might be able to convert some of your peripheral material into short-format fiction and place the stories with magazines or e-zines. This could be a microfiction format such as dribble (50 words), drabble (100 words) or flash fiction (500-1,000 words) as well as standard short story (1K-9K words). See my March 2010 post Spotlight on Microficiton for more information.
Like your novel itself, your short story needs to have a dramatic arc--inciting incident, conflict, rising action, climax, denouement. Often the denouement section will be very, very condensed or merely hinted at.
Perhaps some past event is hinted at continually in your novel, but dramatizing it would only slow the story down. Here's your chance to explore that event fully. Perhaps you had to axe an entire plot line when you eliminated a secondary character. Go find those notes a write that story as a stand-alone.
Short story format is also an excellent way to test out your story world on an audience and build a fan base for your work.
Converting peripheral material into poetry is a somewhat different animal because it's more extreme genre-switching than going from one fiction category to another. Poetry has its own rules that you need to know to succeed.
Many beginners either write sing-songy metered and rhymed pieces, or think that line breaks alone are enough to make prose into a poem. Alas, this is not so.
Poetry needs to have layers of meaning, to juxtapose images in intriguing, new ways and to use literary devices such as allusion, assonance and consonance, onomatopoeia, metonymy, metaphor, simile and other forms of figurative language and symbolism.
Yesterday I mentioned turning an excised scene into a poem that was featured HERE. The main reason this material never worked in the book is because it was too much like poetry in the first place. My protagonist was having a trippy dream in which she drew events from her life and they became active, like the video of Ah-ha's song "Take on Me." As I got sucked into Dani's dream, the layers of images and sound play became more important than how well material fit the story. The scene didn't really fit the story tone and brought the pace to a screeching halt. Yet the "Moving on" portion had a full arc with conflict, climax and denouement/epiphany. It was begging for a life of its own. I kept tweaking the language to strengthen the dirty/clean and dry/wet dichotomy through image and sound. The hissing, dusty S and scratchy K sounds give way to wet Ws and onomatopoetic drip-like clicks of T. In other words, the process was more complex than adding line breaks to prose.
Poetry writing is a great way to get at the heart of a life-changing event in your character's past and explore what it means to her. The images it conjures will help you build a symbolic lexicon for this person that can be brought to bear on the novel. For example, she might associate dogs with danger or with loyalty or carefree joy, depending on her early experiences.
You can also place poems with magazines and contests to build a fan base.
Do you have any excised material you want to give new life? What format will you try?