What makes that story so good?

“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. ”
— Ira Glass

To write well, as many know, you need to read good things, and a lot of them. But sometimes, just reading that killer story or book isn’t enough. You know it’s fantastic, it presents some “aha moment,” allows you to see through a subject’s eyes or was just so enjoyable to read, you didn’t realize you’d learned a whole heck of a lot.

So how did the writer do it? While sometimes a story’s greatness can be easy to pinpoint, that isn’t always the case.

Which is why I’ve become so fond of Nieman Storyboard’s “Why’s this so good?” feature. A group of editors writers dissect components of classic narrative nonfiction pieces. So far, they’ve taken on pieces by Truman Capote, John McPhee and W.C. Heinz. In a similar vein, a group of noteworthy editors take a look at contemporary newspaper and magazine articles in Nieman’s monthly Editor’s Roundtable. Following that, they post a Q&A with the writer.

For those still stuck in the gap, in addition to doing a lot more work, Nieman’s features are well worth a look.

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