Clare and I have taken on the NYC Midnight Short Story challenge this year, a competition worth considering if you want to hone your writing skills or be forced to write outside your comfort zone.
The competition consists of a series of time-constrained challenges which increase in difficulty the more successful you are. The first round lasts 8 days in which time you are asked to complete a short story (max 2500 words) with a given character, genre and subject. For example, Clare was given:
Character: Limousine driver
Genre: Romantic Comedy
In contrast I wrote Historical fiction, about a widow and with the subject of sworn enemies.
If your story is successful, you proceed to the next round (you are competing against around 40 people in your category). In this round you are given three days to write another story with a new genre, character and subject.
Although the entry fee is quite high, there is detailed feedback given on every story entered.
Not only does this challenge encourage you write new material to a deadline, but also forces you to use new techniques in your writing, including language and style.
This can only improve your writing skills in the long run.