Stop Apologizing for Your Art

The other day, I was writing an email to a major influencer. I was asking him for something pretty important that would help me as a writer.

Stop Apologizing for Your Art
Photo credit: Megan Schuirmann (Creative Commons)

But I was a little nervous, so I did what many people did. Or rather, I almost did. I caught myself at the end of the email starting to write the following: “You don’t have to do this…”

Wait a second. What was I doing? I was sabotaging myself, and it wasn’t the first time.

Saying “no” for other people

Did I want this favor or not? Of course, I did. So why was I trying to talk this person out of helping me?

Because I was scared he would say no. So I wanted to give him an “out.” But I didn’t need to do that. He was well aware of his right to decline. Writing that escape clause in my email would only weaken my ask.

I was doing something that most people do when they’re unsure of themselves: I was rejecting myself before someone else could.

Many of us do this from time to time. We say no for other people, because of our insecurities and fears. We apologize for our art. And it’s completely unnecessary.

What I’m learning about influence

Here’s what I’m learning about influencing people and communication: Either say something worth saying or don’t say anything at all.

If you feel like you have to apologize, then you probably shouldn’t waste that person’s time.

Or (and this is a big “or”), learn to be confident in what you do. To the extent that you don’t have to end your requests with clauses like, “You don’t have to…” or “sorry to bother you.”

When you obviously believe in your message, so will others.

Our words can have an impact

I believe in the revolutionary impact of words, that what we say matters. So when we apologize for “bothering” someone or use self-deprecating comments about ourselves and our work, that’s a bad deal.

If we do this long enough, we may actually begin to believe we have nothing worth saying.

Most people I know don’t believe that. They just believe no one wants to hear them.

Don’t diminish the impact of your words because you’re struggling to believe in yourself. It only undermines the integrity of your message. Instead, take time to learn how to use words well and master the discipline of believing in yourself.

You have the power to inspire (or not)

If you do this, you will inspire people to join your cause and change the world in ways that neither you nor they dreamed possible. And where does this begin? With you. With me. With those who create and care.

If we believe in our art, so will others. It’s simple, but effective. And it makes all the difference.

Take pride in your work. Trust what you have to say. Believe in your message. Or pick a different one.

But whatever you do, don’t apologize. We don’t have time for that.

Do you do this? Do you apologize for your art? Why? Share in the comments.

84 thoughts on “Stop Apologizing for Your Art

  1. This is something worth thinking long and hard about. We tell ourselves we want to be polite, but sometimes we end up apologizing in advance and looking insecure. I think our requests then seem more like begging than a conversation between two people who respect each other.
    However, I do think it’s important to convey the idea that “our relationship isn’t dependent on you doing this for me.” How would you recommend doing that without seeming to apologize?

    1. That’s good. I think the hard way to do that is to create stuff that’s so amazing that people are naturally attracted to it. Spend more time developing remarkable art and less trying to sell it. That said, you can make an offer more of an invitation and less of a hard ask. Still don’t have to say sorry for it. However, if you are going to make a strong appeal — and this happens often — don’t include the “no pressure” clause. It’s counter-intuitive. Either make a hard ask or don’t. You can always invite someone (again without apologizing) if you want to soften the appeal. That’s my suggesting. I will occasionally do this with a blog post where I want to persuade someone to do something but don’t want to come off as salesy. I take a sort of “take it or leave it” attitude.

  2. I apologize way too much and this post is a great piece for me to read over and over again. I also need to stop trying to explain or apologize for my freelance rate and believe I should be paid what I am worth. Great post!

  3. Aw, hell, I do this way too often.

    And it annoys me because I don’t submit stuff that I’m not proud of. If I’ve sent you a piece of writing, it means I think it’s pretty good. So why on earth would I then undermine it by saying, “If you like it” or something. You’re right – people know that they can say no, so why do I basically encourage that response? I think maybe I’ll feel less bad if it gets rejected. Of course, this is a load of crap, because it still stings to have your art rejected.

    Thanks for the kick in the butt Jeff. 

    ETA: Do you think that it’s appropriate to indicate a willingness to edit? Or do you think that play into the whole self-deprecation idea as well?

  4. Absolutely. Yes. Always. It is something I picked up on a while ago, I always put ‘no worries if not’ or something to that effect at the end of favour-requesting emails.  It’s a balance I guess, because you don’t want to come over as forceful, but equally don’t want to come over as weak and scared. 

    I wonder, like Loren what an alternative might be. Does saying, ‘I totally understand if this is not for you’ or something give a more positive path? It is self-assured, and says I believe in what I have done, but equally it gives the requestee a way to say no without feeling offensive or rude…

    1. There’s certainly room for that. I don’t think this implies that you should be pushy. What I’ve learned is that people KNOW they have an out. You don’t need to tell them they do. And if you REALLY believe in the work you’re doing, why offer it?

      1. Yeah that’s very true. I guess it’s another of those things for which you have to ask the question if the roles were reversed how would you like to be approached. I suppose it’s not really about the art at all it is actually about situation and personality and seeing other people, not as gatekeepers to your dreams, but as potential friends. 

        1. well said, Andy. some of the apologizing mentality comes from a lack of permission. we are making an ask too early or we don’t have that kind of permission. so we make a halfhearted request when instead we should be developing the relationship.

  5. First, this reminds me of when I used to sell cars.  And yes I realize that is funny because I’m in ministry now.  Any rate, after I became management and had to train new salesmen I would use the phrase “Assume the close.”  In other words, assume that the customer is going to say yes.  There’s a lot of power in that.

    I will be honest and say that I used to apologize for my art all the time.  I’d say things like, “If you like it.” or “I’m not sure, but…”  I’ve since stopped doing that because, again, there’s a lot of power in assuming the close.

    1. My hubby spent his career working as a sales manager at a new car dealership. He mentored and cultivated his peeps like a dad. (One of his nicknames was “the Librarian” because he reads so much and always passed his books around to his sales team when finished.) 

      He mentored me, too, and helped me understand that selling by itself isn’t bad. Learning how to approach someone to effect a good outcome for both of you is a great thing. Kinda what Jeff is talking about. 

      Bottom line: I’m a better person for being in love with a car guy.

  6. Funny… I read the other comments and never felt this way in sales. Always believed in what I was “selling” and that makes the difference.  But then it comes to my craft, and somehow i don’t have the same conviction. I know I’m a great writer, even if I have much left to learn. I waffle, I discredit myself – even in comments on other’s posts. We for some reason seem to undermine ourselves.  How can we expect others to see it if it seems we don’t believe in ourselves.

    Thanks for this. I am a fabulous writer… and I’m going to start acting like it!

    1. Good for you, Shelley. I think humility is important, but we should never have an unrealistically LOW view of ourselves. Btw, probably the reason this is harder to do with your own writing is precisely because it’s YOURS. It’s usually easier to sell someone else’s hard work than it is your own. My suggestion to you is this: Think of your work not as your own, but as something you are merely the vehicle in delivering to us. It’s a subtle difference, but it can work. If we artists can learn to separate our personal identities from our work, we will grow more confident in the work as a thing itself (not merely an extension of ourselves).

      1. I’ve got the humility part down and was, perhaps, over-compensating with a little bravado. Sometimes we just need to sing it out and let it resound so that we can believe it. But there is a definite difference between cocky and confident. Great advice – it makes a lot of sense. Thanks Jeff.

  7. I am so much sneakier than that. I twist it into insidious phrases like “I know I have so much to learn compared to the rest of you.” I undermine my work without coming right out and saying “You don’t have to.”

    How twisted is that? 🙁

  8. When I read this article, it remind me that I always apologize for nothing …
    (Just pushing you a little or brush you) “Ho Excuse me I’M SORRY” …

    Yesterday I apologized to my printer cause I want to send him my CV and cover letter |:  | … And today was sad until I read this post, now sun don’t shine again but I’m a little bit better with myslef

    Thank you for this post

  9. I playing a couple songs, along with several others, at an artists conference earlier this year.  Dan Miller was in the audience and afterwards he pointed out to me that almost every single songwriter, myself included, apologized for something before they played a note. (I said I had a great idea for a song and figured I would just write something until a good songwriter writes the song.)  Dan said when he is sitting in the audience he is disappointed by an apology before a performance.  For example, someone apologized that they hadn’t been practicing much so they may be a bit ‘rusty’.  He went on to say that he wants and expects our best and that we should project that before a performance.  I quit apologizing and making excuses before I play.  I love this post, it is a great reminder for me. Thanks Jeff!

  10. Yep, I did something like this a few months ago when I saw that one of my professor’s books had made it to the bestselling list. I read the book, loved it, and sent her an email with the opening line going something like this: “You probably don’t remember me, and you’re probably busy, but…”

    It was cringe-worthy. And she emailed me back basically telling me that I’m an idiot to think that she wouldn’t remember me. 

    In a sense I was not only apologizing for emailing her, I was also apologizing for my art thinking that I never wrote anything good enough for her to remember. Not to mention I was also thinking that she wouldn’t remember me as an individual apart from my art.

    Ugh, it stuck with me, and I’ll [hopefully] never do it again. Great advice.

  11. I’m in the process of putting the finishing touches on a new 2,000+ word blog post on a subject I don’t expect many people to care about. I was going to put a disclaimer at the top to inform visitors that they really don’t have to read the whole darn thing. So you’re saying I shouldn’t? 

      1. Thanks, but you really didn’t have to respond. Or at least you could have said “yep” instead of “right,” which would have been shorter and would have saved you a little time that you could have used to respond to more important comments.

        And, of course, feel free to delete all this. I always feel a little guilty about taking up so much space on other people’s sites. What I have to say isn’t that important usually.

        Sorry, I’m rambling again. Never mind. I apologize. Just ignore me. AAAAAARGH!!! (I hate it when I’m being this annoying!!!)

        Are you mad now? Please don’t be mad.

  12. Reading your post was like reading my thoughts! But I think I managed to tamp it down a bit in my email. Or am I not supposed to disclose this? You don’t have to respond… 😉

  13. I don’t do it as often as I used to but I still do it occasionally.  I think, in my case, not having a college education always made me feel less than.  Not to mention my lack of support at home, as a child.  I’ve learned to overcome many self doubts since then and to appreciate the gifts I’ve been given.  God gives you a gift he wants you to use it and not apologize for it.
    Great post! Thanks

  14. GAAAK!!!  I TOTALLY do this!  Not in official pitches, but amongst friends or acquaintances.  I’m always afraid of sounding like a pushy salesperson of the sort I have to say NO to four or five times before I finally just shut the door.   Of course, I’m only asking once, so no need to feel that way.  

    I needed this, Jeff.  Thanks! 

  15. Thanks for this post.  I know what you’re talking about.  I find myself editing out such dumb comments at the end of letters before I send them, but I wonder if its because its really hard to end a letter, asking for permission or selling something.  Somehow just asking and ending the letter (or article or whatever…) leaves it feeling unfinished.  Maybe it would be useful to have a list of sentences that make good endings to letters asking for permission.  Then we’d have a way to finish without apologizing for asking.

    1. Perhaps you could say something like “I hope that you are as excited about this project as I am. I’d welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you further.” Warmest regards,… Using some of the ideas from cover letter writing when applying for a job but isn’t it basically the same thing? I hope this helps.

  16. Great article, Jeff.  

    I think we do this more often than we think (or at least want to fess up to).  Rejection is an odious parasite, which is why so many people do not pursue their dreams.  No one wants to fail at what they’re most passionate about.  And even if we do pursue our dreams, we tend to still give others a “way out” of backing and supporting us because we are too insecure…or maybe afraid of actually succeeding at what we’re passionate about.

  17. A part of my reasoning for apologizing it because I don’t think people are actually telling me the truth. When I ask a favor and they say yes, I feel that maybe they are doing it because they are obligated, or feel guilty, etc… 

    If I give them an out, then they can’t blame me or resent me afterwards by saying “Well I didn’t really want to do it”. It’s definitely a wrong way of looking at it. 

    After reading this, I’m going to stop doing that. If they have issues, that’s their problem. I’m not going to worry about their reaction anymore. Thanks!

  18. Another killer post Jeff. I have certainly done this in the past and I needed to hear this. Thanks man.

  19. Oh my! Such a great post and I love what MichaelDPerkins said: “Assume the close.” There is power in that. I am horrible about apologizing to editors as I pitch story ideas. “I don’t know if this is something you’re interested in right now but…” That’s a horrible sales pitch. I need the attitude of “Here’s why you and your readers need to read this RIGHT NOW” Thanks for this post.

  20. Thank you for the timely advice, Jeff.

    I’m starting to reach out and connect with folks in hopes of finding a new career opportunity and recognized my tendency to apologize for myself and give the other person an out beforehand.

  21. Well, Jeff, we’re embarrassed. We apologize because we feel inferior or unsure of our value. We assume everybody is hotter, smarter, edgier. Who are we to ask a favor? You are a million percent correct (I feel this strongly) that we need to stop and think before we grovel and fawn. As for finding the power to do that, here’s what Marianne Williams said about it: 

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world….” You can read the whole thing here:

    And she doesn’t even pay me.

  22. Awesome post Jeff. 

    I come from a very tactful and diplomatic culture (Kenyan – Africa). 

    Am just a few months old in the States and one of the things am adjusting to is the direct, fast,almost brush, way of life here. 

    I am learning to be direct, loud (well….more audible) and confident ( the interpretion of it here).

    This has impacted my blog in a major way. I have stopped writing “cowardly” posts (the kind of posts that are geared towards making the reader happy, in the hope of making them like me and thus drop by the following week).  

    I have become more authentic, direct, unapologetic. And guess what, I have not had to loose my tact or diplomacy! All goes to show that you can be better without loosing who you who are on the inside.

    Thanks for this post, it has truly encouraged me!

  23. Great article, Jeff.

    This reminds me of the saying in the show, Mad Men: “Never apologize for being good at your job.”

    And it’s true. Fear and uncertainty mitigates the power behind our words. 

    I even notice it in my writing. Removing certain words like “just” and “really” greatly improve the power behind a statement. This goes the same when saying something to someone.

    When reading this post I felt like I was hearing myself talk. I’m a new viewer on your website, and have found my way here through various probloggers, and I must say, I admire your writing and work. Fully subscribed, just downloaded your eBook, and plan to read more posts. Keep it up my man.

  24. I constantly apologize for my art, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” until I start tearing down what I’ve built, throwing away hardwon manuscripts.  My spirit curses supposedly wasted time.

    I want to write fantasy fiction.  There, I’ve said it.  It’s what I want to do with my life.  It’s an art mountain that I climb alone and that many others have gone before me and failed- I actually want to be published.  I actually think that’s my future, and I’m only sixteen.  My few friends think I’m crazy, my body suffers for it.  I actually truly desire to touch people through writing, to create a fantastic world, and yet I apologize and stammer about it- can’t hold a regular conversation, pained for normalcy.  And in the end, I probably don’t mean half what I say…

    Apology is Resistance’s middle name.  Good post, Jeff.

  25. You gave me AHA moments in every line. I am guilty of
    apologizing and that has to change starting now. Thank you, it’s like you’re
    talking straight to me to be more creative and I am worth every one’s time. I
    love this post!

  26. This is an easy trap to fall into!  I think part of the motivation is attempting to show respect/humility towards the influencer…emphasis on “attempting.”  You’re right Jeff, if we don’t believe in our own messages how can we expect others to believe in it as well?

  27. In today’s economy, it’s easy to question the value of one’s art, especially when it seems most people are being very discrete with their discretionary income. As a photographer, it makes me wonder if my prices are too high. They aren’t. I just need to continue to believe in the value of my work and communicate that value effectively.

    Now, if I could just apply that in a way that would open doors and build a platform for my book and for speaking engagements to share what the Lord has laid on my heart….

  28. That is a great post! I love all the wisdom and positivity I find here. You are right; we so often apologize for our art and for so much of ourselves. Thank you for such an inspiring post.

  29. Love this reminder. Such a powerful post. We have to believe in ourselves and what we offer because we do have the ability to inspire.

    I have just realized how I apologized lately when requesting an interview with one of my favourite mentors. Bugger, I might have to try a new angle now.

    My husband and I lately have taken on a team member who is helping us with this sort of thing. She is now handling all our PR work,and we are working on some major deals. We realized we couldn’t do it as we would just apologize too much. We know we offer value but are just no good at selling ourselves. Sometimes it is good to take on board those who can do it well for you. 

    Amazing things have happened for us as a result

  30. It’s quite funny when  I realized I usually add the line ‘sorry for the inconvenience caused…’ at the end of my emails. Not gonna repeat this mistake again. 

  31. Are you in my head? Because your recent posts are addressing what I’m actually struggling with right now. Thanks for helping me see this within myself and correct it!

  32. Hey Jeff,

    You’re onto something very important here! Apologizing / self-deprecation is very destructive to success… We have to stop apologizing for who we are, what we do, and what we ask for.

    It’s good to be reminded of it, thank you! :)Regards,Matt

  33. This golden rule is something really easy to forget: if you’re writing the things you’d like to read, you have every reason to be proud of your work; if not, why don’t you?

    Great post.

  34. I once went into sales and often ended up doing this a lot, always worrying about how other people would receive my offers, and telling them they were free to opt-out. I agree that fear is what usually brings about this attitude. The article was really helpful in reminding me of that fact.

  35. I’m guilty of that! Often, I would analyze my photos to the point where people might be thinking “so if he thinks that way about his photography, why does he bother posting his work?” No more apologies. No more self-deprecating. No more over-analyzing. If I feel like my photos are worthy of being posted online (be it on Facebook, Tumblr, or 500px), then they probably are! Thank you for opening my eyes.

  36. Yes, I used to do this and yes I was unsure about my work;
    however I now see that I was not only giving a way out I was devaluing my work
    by not being confident in it.

    I now stop myself from doing it and find, as a result my confidence and
    as a consequence my work has grown.
    Nice article Jeff I’ll read more of your stuff

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