From Douglas Wilson:
We all know the type. Somebody gets up to sing for the church dinner and spreads out a safety net for himself before singing one note. “I am sorry about this… haven’t had any time to practice this week… just getting over a cold.. was only asked to do this at the last minute.” When this goes on for a bit, the sentiment of the audience soon becomes, “Then why didn’t you say no?”
My father-in-law actually lists this one among his pet peeves. One time, many years ago, during his career as an Air Force pilot, he was attending a banquet at which a junior officer got up to address a room full of brass. He began his talk with the disclaimer, “You know, there are a whole lot of people who know a whole lot more about this subject than I do,” and my father-in-law slumped. But then the young man continued, “but I don’t see any of them here.” My father-in-law perked right up and was prepared to listen to someone who was clearly ready to be there. (Wordsmithy, p. 91)
It’s tempting sometimes to mistake faux-humility for openness to criticism. In reality, the two couldn’t be more different. Openness to criticism is a readiness to learn from those who aren’t as thrilled with our work as we are. Faux-humility is just pride by another name.
The maxim “think before you speak” applies to writing, too. Instead of peppering your article with excuses, stop and think before you ever lay a finger on the keyboard. Ask yourself: do I have something to say? And more importantly, should I be saying it? If the answer is yes, proceed. Say what you’ve got to say, and when you’re done, shut up.
What you should not do is say something and then nullify it with needless remorse. In the first place, it goes against Christ’s exhortation to “let your Yes be Yes and your No be No.” In the second place, it takes the punch right out of your writing. You bob and weave, like a decrepit prizefighter, unable to effectively make your point. As a result, you begin to lose credibility with the reader – he doesn’t know if he can take you seriously because he doesn’t know if you take yourself seriously. Keep it up, and you’re bound to lose him altogether.
And who’s to blame him? Why listen to somebody who constantly apologizes for what they’re saying, what they’ve said, or what they’re about to say? That kind of writer never inspires confidence in the reader – and frankly, he doesn’t deserve any.
“Openness to criticism is not the same as apologizing for breathing,” Wilson goes on to say. “If you shouldn’t be there, don’t be there. If you shouldn’t have written it, then delete the file. Nobody will care. But if you should be there, if God has called you to the writing life, then put it out there and offer no apologies for having done so.”
Now have at it.