Writing Thoughts, from The Journal of Jules Renard

Talent is a question of quantity. Talent does not write one page: it writes three hundred. No novel exists which an ordinary intelligence could not conceive; there is no sentence, no matter how lovely, that a beginner cold not construct. What remains is to pick up the pen, to rule the paper, patiently to fill it up.

It is a fascinating task to disentangle, in a young writer, the influences of the established ones. How hard we work before we help ourselves, quite simply, to our own originality!

It is in the heart of the city that one writes the most inspired pages about the country.

The scholar generalizes, the artist individualizes.

It should be forbidden, under penalty of fine or even imprisonment, for a modern writer to borrow similes from mythology, to talk of harps, of lyres, of muses, of swans. Storks might pass.

I read novel upon novel, I stuff myself with them, inflate myself with them, I’m full up to my throat with them, in order that I may be disgusted with their commonplaces, their repetitions, their conventions, their systematic methods of procedure, and that I may do otherwise.

One should operate by dissociation, and not by association, of ideas. An association is almost always commonplace. Dissociation decomposes, and uncovers latent affinities.

[Prosper] Mérimée may be the writer who will last longest. He makes less use than any other of the image, that prime cause of the aging of a style. Posterity will belong to dry, constipated writers.

Amazing, how fond writers can be of each other while running each other down!

In his Paysans, Balzac makes the peasant loquacious. Balzac has too much genius: he even gives some to his peasants.

I say: “[Mallarmé’s] writing is stupid.” Raynaud says: “It is marvelous.” And that resembles all literary discussions.

It is pretty unfortunate that our taste improves while our talent stands still.

In art, never do as others do; in morals, act like everyone else.

The more one reads, the less one imitates.

One should work only in the evening, when one is filled with the stimulation of the entire day.

If the word arse appears in a sentence, even in a sublime sentence, the public will hear only that one word.

Style means the right word. The rest matters little.

Your sole preoccupation is to be sincere. But don’t you find this constant search for sincerity a little false, untruthful?

To begin with, you must do whatever you do of your own free will, with pleasure. The result matters little. You do not foresee it and you are not capable of judging it. But the author has satisfied herself: there is always that.

Life can do without logic; literature cannot.

What I write is like letters to myself that I would then permit you to read.

Let the hand that writes always ignore the eye that reads!

Do not say that what I write is not true. Everything is true: say that I have written it badly.

When I have experienced great difficulty in writing a page, I consider it well written.

The impulse of the pen. Left alone, thought goes as it will. As it follows the pen, it loses its freedom. It wants to go one way, the pen another. It is like a blind man led astray by his cane, and what I come to write is no longer what I wished to write.

I was born for successes in journalism, for the daily renown, the literature of abundance: reading great writers changed all that. That was the misfortune of my life.

There are good writers and great ones. Let us be the good ones.

I am often dissatisfied with what I have written. I am never dissatisfied with what I am writing, because if I were, I would not be writing it.

Nature is not definitive. One can always add to it.

To take notes is to play the scales of literature.

You will not have made real progress until you have lost the desire to prove your talent.

I no longer enjoy writing. I have made for myself too difficult a style.

I was brought up by a library.

Inspiration is perhaps only the joy of writing; it does not precede writing.

There cannot be on the one side form, and on the other, matter. A bad style is an imperfect thought.

To describe a peasant, one should not use words he would not understand.

There are storytellers and writers. You can tell any story you like; you cannot write whatever you like: you write only yourself.

Style is the habit, the second nature of thought.

The task of the writer is to learn how to write.

I have a horror of rhyme, especially in prose.

The writer must create her own language, and not use of that of her neighbor. She must be able to watch it grow.

A sentence must be so clear that it pleases at once, and that it is re-read for the pleasure it gives.

Style. I always stop at the brink of what will not be true.

A work must be born and grow like a tree. There are not, in the air, invisible lines along which the branches will set themselves; the tree comes entire from the germ that contained it, and develops free, in the open air. It is the gardener who traces plans, marks paths to follow, who spoils it.

I don’t write too badly, because I never take any risks.

The word that is most true, most exact, most filled with sense, is the word “nothing.”

To write for the theatre one must have a passion for untruth.

The green waters of memory, into which everything falls. They must be stirred up. Things rise to the surface.

Your page on autumn must give as much pleasure as a walk through fallen leaves.

The writer of prose is supposed to not need music. This is not at all the case; without it he would be nothing.

One must write as one speaks, if one speaks well.

Writing for someone is like writing to someone: you immediately feel obliged to lie.

There is also a sort of deliberate originality, which one expects, which becomes commonplace, and which leaves one cold.

Words: the pieces of change in the currency of a sentence. They must not get in the way. There is always too much small change.

Style. Thick, heavy syllables that deafen the reader and prevent the sentence from being heard.

Art: to nudge truth along a little.

One must know how to be careless with style in order to sound more limber.

You sit down to work. For a long time, nothing. You don’t even try. All at once, a sort of breath passes, and the fire catches.

In order to read properly what one has written, one must think it again.

Literature is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.

A beautiful style should not be seen.

One should write as one breathes. A flowing breath, with its slow and its precipitate rhythms, always natural – that is the symbol of a good style.

All we owe the reader is clarity. He must accept originality, irony, violence, even if he doesn’t like them. He does not have the right to judge of these. One might say that they are not his concern.

It is the “beautiful descriptions” that have given me a taste for descriptions in three words.

What is exact cannot help but be subtle.

from The Journal of Jules Renard, edited and translated by Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Roget. George Braziller, Inc. New York, 1964.