A long time ago – we’re talking about when I was a child, here, so while it’s not exactly the Dark Ages, it is a fairly long while back – Dad used to grace me and my siblings (all four of us) with his wisdom on a regular basis. Some of it was what you might call “Dad stuff”, with the usual issues that would apply.
A lot of it wasn’t. There are those in this world who could stand to take notice of Dad’s advice, but alas, none of them read this site unless they’re looking for something to pretend to be offended by so they can scream about whatever their pet issue happens to be.
He had two big pieces of advice that came out a lot – which really isn’t surprising, given that we were a large and rather rambunctious family at the time (things are quieter these days and we’ve scattered to the far ends of the earth. I do believe those two observations are related). The first, “It’s better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
I’m pretty sure he’s quoting someone (Churchill, perhaps?) but it’s good advice in many situations. It’s really good advice for those of us who are a bit smarter than the average mollusc, simply because when you’re the most intelligent person in a group for a long time, you tend to forget that there are others who are smarter than you. Basically, don’t try to pretend you know more than you do. You’ll tie yourself up in knots and beclown yourself in interesting and humiliating ways.
This applies to any person speaking about something where they have neither expertise nor experience. I may have a largely-forgotten geology degree and a broad scattering of surface-level knowledge about a lot of things, but I’m not going to try to tell a rocket scientist how to do his, her, or its job (although I did once get into a room-clearing discussion with an evolutionary biologist when I asked him if he thought dogs had speciated. After a lot of interesting detours, his answer came down to species being a rather imprecise way to divide living things and having been more or less grandfathered into modern biology because it had been around for so long and made a useful way to distinguish certain groups. Oh, and if you asked the question about dogs to ten evolutionary biologists, you’d probably get at least eleven answers).
The other one he used a lot when I was actively involved in various amateur musical groups, although it also applies to a lot of things. “Don’t tiptoe around what you’re doing. Go at it with confidence. That way, if you make a mistake everyone will know and you can fix it.” Making timid, half-hidden mistakes means nobody knows what you’re doing so nobody corrects them.
Not to mention, depending on what it is and where, mistakes made with sufficient confidence can actually be… well… not mistakes at all. It’s a bit like old-school jazz – if you pussyfoot around and you’re timid, it will sound like you’re doing it wrong no matter what you do. If you’re confident – or even if you fake confident well enough – it will work. I can attest that this is true. I’ve done it more times than I care to count.
Oddly, the two pieces of advice aren’t contradictory. They tend to work well together: when you don’t know something, don’t try to pretend that you do, but when you do know it, be confident about it. Chances are, going into a situation with confidence (however faux it might be) you’ll do better than if you tried to sidle into whatever it is.
So, write with confidence, but don’t try to pretend you’re better/smarter/whatever than anyone else, and you’ll get there. Wherever “there” happens to be.