Thought it might be fun to start putting down all the various tips that have helped me out over the years.
Hint #1 - Selecting a pattern.
I know everyone always tells you to pick out a pattern in relation to your individual skill set; but, honestly, if we all did this we would be knitting and crocheting scarves forever and would never get beyond the "easy/beginner" phase of our development.
My advice is this. If you see a pattern in a magazine, in a book, or on-line somewhere and you instinctively gasp, "Oh my God!" (or in the words of my favorite coworker, "OH MY FRICKIN' GOD!!!"), then that's the pattern you should work on. I don't care if the skill-level is "advanced" and the title contains the word "heirloom," it's still the pattern you must do.
Case in point - I've been searching feverishly for ages for a pattern to make my niece an afghan for Christmas. I searched through the Patons Decor booklet All Seasons Afghans. The afghan on the cover is a crocheted afghan, done in rows. It's nice, and I could probably knock it off in my sleep. HOWEVER, inside the booklet is a knitted afghan called "Autumn Stripes Afghan." Yes, I took one look and said, "OH MY FRICKIN' GOD!!!" Granted, it meets all the criteria for "step away slowly":
a) It's knitted in worsted weight yarn (Decor), so it's going to take ages to complete. I'm probably going to still be knitting it on Christmas Eve, screaming, "I'm almost done! I SWEAR!!!"
b) It contains colors I don't presently have in my stash, so I'm going to have to buy more yarn. Okay, this isn't necessarily a hardship...
c) It's got two-color knitting, which I've never attempted for something flat.
But, it's GORGEOUS! I just know my niece is going to love it.
So, this is the pattern I must use!