I read. I read insatiably as if I had been put into a room for years where the only thing to read was bad vampire-fan-fiction and short stories consisting of adverbial dialogue tags, and I was finally released. I read as if I can taste the words through my fingertips and they taste like smooth chocolate sprinkled with sea salt. I read meticulously. I re-read the same text over and over. The first read is the pleasure read where I let myself go and simply enjoy navigating through the plot. Second read, I highlight the sentences that struck me. Third, fourth, fifth, I start dissecting.
I use my pencil as the scalpel and operate on every sentence. Open-text surgery. I look at the way syntax is used. I meditate on what is being told through that sentence: what is the function of it, what information is it giving the reader? Most good writers don't use a lot of "fluff," especially in a short story. Every paragraph has a specific function to move the story forward, so do the sentences that form the paragraphs. I look at word choice. I highlight all descriptions that appeal to the sensory organs of a reader (smells, textures, colors, tastes, sounds.) These are the bare bones on which a good story relies.
When I'm ready to finish operating, I take a look at the more general things in a story. I look at the story arc; I look at beginnings, endings, and character development. I look at the way time and place have been introduced to the reader.
Close-reading texts of great writers helps. When I start writing after I've just dismembered Nabokov on the table (or rather my desk,) his hand is like a ghost hand guiding mine. Not all but some of the techniques have seeped into my subconscious. One of the wisest teachers I've had the pleasure of learning from, Francine Prose, wrote, "I've heard fellow writers say that they cannot read while working on a book of their own, for fear that Tolstoy or Shakespeare might influence them. I've always hoped they would influence me." (Prose, Reading Like a Writer)
Imitation is part of being a writer. Just like babies who learn to smile by imitating adults, we must have the humility to learn from the greats through mimicry. Furthermore, as adult writers, we have the motor-skills necessary to reach out and feel the way the face muscles contract in order to create that smile. We have the intelligence to study the techniques involved in good storytelling.
So study the greats. Study the Shakespeares, Dickenses and Tolstoys. That being said, the writing that excites me the most and the writing that I strive to create is writing that does something new with language. When I read George Saunders describing a character with, "He was like the bed at a party on which they pile the coats" in his collection of short-stories 10th of December, I feel the way Colonel Aureliano Buendía must have felt when his father took him to discover ice for the first time. (Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude)
As Pablo Picasso said, "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist." So try and learn to paint classically beautiful paintings before you invite people over, promising to paint their pictures and then showing them cubist portraits of their faces
no matter how genius.