Even If What You’re Working On Doesn’t Go Anywhere, It Will Help You with the Next Thing You’re Doing

Cormac McCarthy novelist? Cormac McCarthy musician?

cormac11Dear Quote Investigator: Everyone has worked on projects with ambitious goals that remained unfulfilled. The following quotation helps me to maintain an optimistic perspective:

Even if what you’re working on doesn’t go anywhere, it will help you with the next thing you’re doing. Make yourself available for something to happen. Give it a shot.

These words have been attributed to the acclaimed novelist Cormac McCarthy who wrote “No Country for Old Men”, “The Road”, “Blood Meridian”, and “The Orchard Keeper”. Yet, I have not been able to determine where it was written or spoken. Would you please clarify the source of this quotation?

Quote Investigator: This quotation should not be ascribed to the novelist Cormac McCarthy. Instead, the remark should be credited to a musician with an identical name. In 2006 the “Press-Republican” of Plattsburgh, New York published an article titled “Cormac McCarthy, 21st-Century Troubadour” that included an interview with the singer and songwriter of folk music. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

McCarthy writes songs the good old-fashioned way. He finds something he wants to say and works on saying it.

“But every once in awhile a song will just come out, almost whole by itself. I just rewrite it to clean it up. But most of the time, I find a phrase or an idea that I like and I just work on it, put it down for awhile if I’m not going anywhere.”

As far as process, the act of doing gets his juices going.

“Even if what you’re working on doesn’t go anywhere, it will help you with the next thing you’re doing,” McCarthy said. “Make yourself available for something to happen. Give it a shot.”

Here is one additional selected citation.

The massive quotation website BrainyQuote included a webpage for the writer Cormac McCarthy, and the statement above was attributed to the writer and not to the musician. The birthday on the webpage matched the birth date of the prominent author which was July 20, 1933: 2

Even if what you’re working on doesn’t go anywhere, it will help you with the next thing you’re doing. Make yourself available for something to happen. Give it a shot.
Cormac McCarthy

In conclusion, confusion between two people who are both named Cormac McCarthy is certainly understandable. The quotation above should be credited to the musician. Many webpages display the quotation together with an ambiguous attribution to Cormac McCarthy. Some webpages incorrectly ascribe the words to the novelist.

Image Notes: Two book covers displayed with reduced size and low resolution for purposes of identification. Picture of singer songwriter Cormac McCarthy. Image author: Chris Darling from Portland, USA. Image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Accessed via Wikimedia commons. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Andrew Thompson whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 2006 March 2, Press-Republican, Cormac McCarthy, 21st-Century Troubadour – Cormac McCarthy performs intimate gig at Palmer Street by Robin Caudell, Plattsburgh, New York. (NewsBank Access World News)
  2. Website: BrainyQuote, Webpage title: Cormac McCarthy Quotes, Profession specified for McCarthy: Writer, Birthdate specified for McCarthy: July 20, 1933, Website Assertion: “BrainyQuote is the world’s largest quotation site”. (Accessed brainyquote.com on August 15, 2015) link