When it comes to improving your writing, one of the best gifts you can give to yourself is to seek out and consume as much excellent writing as possible. A lot of times, especially as bloggers, we find ourselves looking out at our competition and becoming exhaustive experts in whatever our peers happen to be doing. A few years ago, I shifted my reading approach and I feel the difference. Instead of reading writers at my level, I try to find as much interesting, compelling work that’s really hitting a national audience.

There is so much to be learned from reading strong writers… if you try to break down their work and process as you read. I’ve included 12 pieces that went viral this year and were considered examples of the highest quality of work (thanks to Longreads.com for their 2015 list, which includes many more pieces). Pick and choose which pieces look interesting to you, then look carefully at how the writer introduces the topic, how they organize their thoughts and the way they bring you into the story.

Enjoy!

Me and My Girls

David Carr | The New York Times | 2008 | 32 minutes (8,005 words)

An excerpt from The Night of the Gun, by David Carr. The acclaimed New York Times journalist died this year at age 58. He will be sorely missed.

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

Gabrielle Glaser | The Atlantic | March 16, 2015 | 33 minutes (8,292 words)

Glaser examines the history of the popular, faith-based 12-step program that dominates alcohol abuse treatment in the U.S. and asks why we’ve ignored several other effective treatments.

Life Lines

Daniel Zalewski | The New Yorker | March 23, 2015 | 40 minutes (10,032 words)

An artist with amnesia finds comfort and stability by drawing. She’s also helping researchers learn more about the way our brains work.

Where Are the Children?

Sarah Stillman | The New Yorker | April 20, 2015 | 37 minutes (9,381 words)

Undocumented migrants are being held for ransom by extortionists who know that they aren’t likely to report the crime.

ZPM Espresso and the Rage of the Jilted Crowdfunder

Gideon Lewis-Kraus | New York Times Magazine | April 30, 2015 | 22 minutes (5,555 words)

A Kickstarter project gets fully funded by backers, who become irate and consider legal action when the project fails to deliver. The creators explain what went wrong.

The Friend

Matthew Teague | Esquire | May 10, 2015 | 24 minutes (6,032 words)

Matthew Teague’s wife, Nicole, was only 34 years old and dying of cancer. This is the story of how a friendship, deep, true, and strong, became prophylactic against the dizzying litany of indignities involved in a slow, painful death.

Unclimbable

Eva Holland | SB Nation | May 21, 2015 | 31 minutes (7,907 words)

Eva Holland explores what it means to comprehend and embrace your limits —to know yet avoid the precipice between courage and humility—on a climbing expedition to the Yukon Territories’ famed Cirque of the Unclimbables.

A Long Walk’s End

William Browning | SB Nation | July 1, 2015 | 37 minutes (9,320 words)

James T. Hammes embezzled $8.7 million from an Ohio-based Pepsi distributor, and then he went on the run. Or rather on the hike—he took off on the Appalachian Trail for six years.

The Myth of the Ethical Shopper

Michael Hobbes | Huffington Post | July 17, 2015 | 20 minutes (5,079 words)

Why boycotting and shopping smarter won’t eliminate sweatshops.

Why the Best War Reporter in a Generation Had to Suddenly Stop

Mark Warren | Esquire | Sept. 14, 2015 | 21 minutes (5,464 words)

After 14 bloody years of covering conflict for The New York Times, C.J. Chivers had established himself as one of the foremost war reporters of his generation. And then he decided to come home.

Ina Garten Does It Herself

Choire Sicha | Eater | Sept. 30, 2015 | 19 minutes (4,783 words)

The fascinating story of Ina Garten, queen of cookbooks.

Damage

Mariya Karimjee | The Big Roundtable | Jan. 14, 2015 | 42 minutes (10,508 words)

The author, who spent her childhood in Pakistan, underwent a female genital mutilation procedure when she was seven years old. Having lived in the States for many years as a young adult, she reflects on the effects of this procedure on her sexuality and her relationship to her family, especially her mother.