Still, they spoke of making sure the first story or stories you write are simple enough for you to pull off. So they were talking specifically to newer writers.
Whereas I believe that everyone should make sure their project of choice is something they can pull off.
Don't get me wrong—writers should always seek to stretch themselves. But if you struggle with organizing plot logically and always have to go back and make sure you didn't overthink something and turn it into nonsense, well… As much as you might long to try your hand at writing cozy mysteries, you probably aren't ready for that, yet.
This is where self-editing comes into play. Ideally, you should do this before writing a story: sit down with all your story ideas and consider how they fit your abilities. What do you struggle with? What are you good at? What will each book require?
Struggle to write realistic dialogue, but your action scenes are killer? Then that character-driven drama with nuanced conversations probably isn't the best choice, right now. But lonely assassin story might work.
Do you have a hard time writing distinct voices for your different POV characters, but your humor scenes can make readers laugh out loud? Hm, then that multigenerational southern Gothic one probably won't work, but a lighthearted story limited to 1 POV, maybe 2, might work well.
Does plotting make you whimper and rip your outline to shreds and go back to the emotional arc outline? Then that plot-heavy spy novel probably won't work, unless maybe you could make it character-oriented… Hm. That might actually work.
See what I mean?
Now, don't neglect stretching yourself; but don't stretch yourself in every area at once. That way lay frustration.
Get fairly comfortable with what you're doing, then experiment. Always write in 3rd person limited? Try 1st person or omniscient POV. Always use present tense? Try past.
If you're feeling really adventurous—and are willing to produce something you probably won't be able to sell—try second person POV or one of the forbidden verb tenses (future, present perfect, past perfect). Those things aren't used for a reason, so trying to produce something that works despite that reason can be quite a valuable exercise.*
Are your stories always dialogue-heavy? Make yourself write a story that's description and monologue.
Are your stories always description-heavy? Try writing a story of pure dialogue.
If your experiment flunks, then you aren't as comfortable with your writing as you thought. Keep going. Keep practicing.
And don't tackle too many experiments at once unless you're willing to risk biting off more than you can chew.
For a writer to have novel or story ideas that they can't yet write is normal. I have one, myself, that I try to tackle every so often, only to sigh and lament "Not yet." Others that I stir, say "Hmm…", and nudge a little further back on the stove to keep simmering.
And the fun thing is, waiting to tackle the "hard" stuff will make it easier, because you'll have less to tackle at once. I struggle with transitions; I don't think with them—which even confuses me, sometimes—and therefore have had to really study when they're needed. I realized that it would be better for me to focus on stories with a limited timeline. But—
Even those limited timelines need transitions at every scene shift. So I was practicing the transitions, getting better at using them—and my ability to write a first draft that'll be coherent to someone other than me has increased dramatically.
What are your thoughts?
P.S. April 2012 Update: Jami Gold's addressed this on a different tack over on her blog. Worth reading. ^_^