As I sat in front of my laptop last night, pecking away at the keys and playing with Scrivener, it came to me that working on the flash fiction and other short-form stories seems to be helping me with working on my novel.
I think it's because I can see where I make mistakes and find my weak spots right away, without the soul-crushing horror of slogging thrugh 50,000 or more words over and over, trying to focus on picking out the bits that don't quite work. With under 1000 words it's a matter of a few minutes and a cup of coffee and I've gone over the piece, found any grotty bits, and reworked them.
Each succeess of a longer and longer work gives me more confidence in assaulting the mountain-climb that's writing a novel. And honestly, I can use all the confidence I can get! Like with most of the writers I know, I have enough self-doubt for at least 3 or 4 lifetimes!
So, I've managed to stop feeling guilty about spending time "off-novel" and writing the flash fiction. It really does help, even with working on the chapter outline for Threshold I can go back and look at the first bits I wrote, then look at the latest, and see a marked improvement.
The only way to learn to write, and write well, is to write. Like in other areas, your first few attempts will be bad - best get them done and out of the way quickly!
Somewhat off-topic, it looks like Dead Heir might end up short story length, I'm not sure I can cram the entire affair into less than 1000 words without ruining the build-up of the mood. I have it on Google Docs so I'm doing the first draft partially during dead time at the office and partially in the evenings at home so progress is pretty good. Once I'm happy wit it, I'll post it here.