What say you, good folks of AQ: do you use short stories as "finger exercises" of sorts? Poetry? For that matter, do you write stories for the simple exercise of writing stories?
The topic is multifold, I suppose... Truman Capote, in an interview for the Paris Review, once said that writers who use short stories as finger exercises only work out their fingers; I think what he implied was that to write stories simply to put words down and work on your prose is possibly a futile exercise... his stance seemed to be, if you're going to do it, then pour yourself into it and really learn how to professionally tell a story in the manner that suits you.
Which leads back to the topic: how often do you write short stories? Poetry? Prose poems? Do you focus squarely on novellas or novels? Do you write simply to write, or do you have expectations to sell every piece of writing you pen, as Capote did? (To quote from the article, "I never write—indeed, am physically incapable of writing—anything that I don't think will be paid for.")
I feel like I'm somewhere in the middle. At this stage in my life, I don't care too much anymore if I get paid for anything; I write because I love writing, and it's one of the few things that still brings me release and fulfillment (I hesitate to say "joy" because I rarely experience it). I publish quite a bit on my FA page just because I want to share it, not because I'll ever make a dime off it, and I'm fine with that.
That being true, I see every story, poem, lyric/song, novella and whatnot as a chance to develop my style and storytelling prowess, by working simultaneously outside and within my comfort zones; I've starting playing with prose poetry, for instance, and writing more poetry (including spoken-word style political poetry). I've played with literary styles and unusual arrangements of prose. But at all times, I'm delving seriously enough into it that I make sure that I'm not writing something I don't believe in, and something that moves me. I always end up satisfied with the results, even where I can acknowledge an immaturity of prose and shortcomings in technical precision and skill; conversely, I'm becoming quite a harsh critic; if it isn't from one of the geniuses—Poe or Dunsany or the like—I'm picking the work apart quite ruthlessly and finding ways I might have worded a passage differently, or reworked it entirely because the passage feels flat or unnecessary. Lyricists aren't immune; for all of Marilyn Manson's subtle and unacknowledged genius and skill with symbolism and imagery, I find most of the lyrics dull and uninformative, something I work hard on in my own lyrics (it should be clear, for instance, what is trying to be conveyed, and not something you need to guess at, an art form that Axl Rose mastered with a limited vocabulary).
And secondly, as a curious aside, how prolific are the folks of AQ? Do you try to hold yourself to a schedule of writing, or do you write as you see fit and not worry about your quantitative output? I can be productive in bursts, but they usually don't last; in looking at and building an archive of my work, I'm finding that I tend to explode for short bursts of time (a few months at most) every two to three years and then I fall silent for various reasons (burnout, work demands, complete lack of free time, lack of confidence, etc.). That being true I totaled myself up and I have 60 short stories since 2003, 9 poems, 2 novellas (one might count as a short novel), and 2 novels, plus a small handful of spec scripts; not exactly prolific (3 ½ short stories a year) but the list is growing. I'm personally trying to hold myself to a schedule of writing (produce X many stories in X time) just to keep myself writing, but neither do I write without having a story in mind or a motivation to (I won't write without a muse, i.e., and I won't force myself if I can't get serious about it).
One day I'll be at least acceptably decent at this, I keep telling myself. Time will tell if that's a delusion.