‘Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’ That’s Stephen King stating the indisputable relationship between good writing and reading; or rather, good writers and reading. The quote may be over-used, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Writers have to write, and writers have to read. They may read in a different way from people who read for pleasure but that’s because reading is work. (Admittedly nice work, but work nonetheless.) Watching a writer read, should you be so unlucky, is watching a writer at work.
Zadie Smith talked about the ‘practice’ of reading:
‘When you practice reading, and you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it. It’s an old moral, but it’s completely true.’
Writers put a lot into their reading because it is both practice and education. William Faulkner explained, sort of, how it works:
‘Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.’
So, for all writers, reading is an essential part of any working day. (Which means every day!) It’s like a classical musician going to concerts or an artist going to exhibitions: to experience, understand and enjoy what others in your profession do is to help yourself develop.
And while crime writers, or writers in any specific genre, tend to read more in their own field, ghostwriters have to read across as many genres as possible. We do this so we can understand how each works and so are able to write in whatever style is required of us. Ghostwriters have to have the literary equivalent of the Yoga Master’s extreme flexibility.
In the end, what we’re all trying to get to is the point at which our readers devour our books, while barely noticing the chewing. Or, as Nathaniel Hawthorne said,
‘Easy reading is damn hard writing.’