The cool thing about writing is you get a lifetime supply of do-overs. If one piece doesn't work, you can scratch it and start something else. You can also try your hand at different things, poetry every now and then, a flash piece or even a song.
And no matter where you are in your writing career, hobby or graffiti scrawls, you can always improve and get better.
Here are the main things that taught me about writing and helped me improve once I put paper to pen:
Reading books in my genre. You can't really reach your intended audience or break into a market if you know nothing about either. Dip your toes in and try out different subgenres and things you may sneer at at first glance. You never know when someone's writing will spark an idea in your own. Read, read, read. I read Twilight, which wasn't wonderful for me, but it had good points and bad. I learned things from it about writing which I'll share in an upcoming post.
Reading books on craft. There are tons of books out there on craft. Some good ones are How To Write A Damn Good Novel, How To Write A Damn Good Novel II, The Fire in Fiction (one of the BEST books I've read of late!!!), Writing The Breakout Novel, Characters & Viewpoint, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes. What I typically do is wait for these books to be sold inexpensively by outside sources, that way I can build my own resource library for cheap.
My husband took a creative writing class with the Stafford Institute, and reading the books he got in the mail was what inspired me to write my first novel. It wasn't a perfectly marketable book—my structure's all wrong, my protag is an unlikeable age (19) and I rely too much on coincidence—but it's still a really great first effort with an adorable romance. Reading books on craft is what helped me see why it falls short. Without that knowledge, I'd falsely assume I've got a wonderful story on my hands.
Diving into the blogosphere. Writers who are in the trenches as you are provide inspiration, and those who have published can give you the do's and don'ts, the ins and outs, and agents will tell you flat out what they're looking for, what works and what doesn't, how to write queries, how to pitch, etc. So many helpful tidbits are out there for free, just waiting for you to gather them up.
Joining a critique group. I can honestly say, my work is a thousand times better because of my wonderful, stupendous critters. I have just learned so much from exchanging reviews, I can't even tell you. Not only will you learn how to improve your own work, the feedback you get and give will help you learn the major things you need to know about writing, from avoiding plot holes to understanding how POV works. Writing is an isolated effort but revision should be a team job.
You can certainly learn a lot from beta readers as well, but with a crit group, you can get more sets of eyes and more diverse perspectives on your work.
Sometimes deeper issue opinions can be wrong, a critter can be wrong, so you want to be able to balance all the input, to figure out for yourself what works and what doesn't for your story.
Go find a group, either online or in person, whatever works best for you.
Joining good forums. In forums, like Absolute Write Water Cooler for instance, you can ask questions about research details or when an issue pops up in your writing, get feedback on your work and submission pieces and make some writer friends. There are hundreds of forums out there and you can generally find them to go with your genre, if you want to get more specific.
People always ask me how I learned about writing, and those are the main avenues that have helped me learn technique to begin with and continue to improve. So open your ears, eyes and hearts to the bounty of information that's out there. It doesn't matter how awful you are now, you can grow.
~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.