Make swatches and practice the techniques that you want to learn. Then you won't have any fear while working on a new project. I did that a couple nights in a row and so far so good. If I get stuck on something new, then out comes the spare yarn and needles and I make a swatch to get it right. I'd say go for the shawl if that's what you want to make. Read the pattern, practice the unknown stitches, and start knitting it.
I'm somewhat of an impatient person, so I'm not really fond of knitting stuff just for practice if 1) I don't want it for myself or family and 2) I want to make something else that's really cool instead. Take the time and pleasure to knit the shawl and we'll all be here if you get stuck.
Be sure to post pics when you're finished too!!