Category Archives: Cormac McCarthy

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.

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  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)

All Creative-Writing Programs Ought to be Abolished by Law

Kay Boyle? John Barth? Cormac McCarthy? Louis Menand?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have been reading about creative writing programs because I am seriously considering attending one. Recently, I encountered a quotation from the writer and educator Kay Boyle which stunned me. Her comment appeared in an article in The New Yorker magazine titled “Show or Tell: Should creative writing be taught?” by Louis Menand. Boyle’s remark was extravagantly, almost comically, negative [KBNY1]:

Kay Boyle once published a piece arguing that “all creative-writing programs ought to be abolished by law.” She taught creative writing for sixteen years at San Francisco State.

I was disappointed to see someone who was long-time teacher of writing harshly attack the discipline. I tried to locate this quotation, so I could learn more about her perspective, but I could not find it. Is this quote accurate? Could you help me locate it if it exists?

Quote Investigator: Yes, QI can help you. Kay Boyle did not say the words between the quotation marks. Hence, tracing this quote is problematic. Despite obstacles QI did succeed in this investigation. Proponents of creative-writing programs will not be pleased with the comment that Boyle actually did make because it is very similar.

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