What is softness to some people, is strength to others
When I was a boy my grandfather said to me "The finest trait of character is humbleness". I was too young at the time to grasp the nature of the statement. Other men in the family – mostly naval officers – worked hard on the male ego, not least around the drink table. Exposed humbleness was to them a sign of weakness. I guess they assumed less cocky attitudes when they faced stormy weather out on the oceans.
As I grew older it dawned on me what the old man had been talking about. His version of humbleness had nothing to do with appearances. As a captain in the merchant navy he had no problems with his male identity.
He had mean humbleness before a task. This became very clear to me as I started writing fiction. As readers we may think that if a text is easy to read, it is easy to write. Wrong – the more fluent a text, the more work behind.
So, when I struggled with my first book I had grandfather's reflection in mind. In my case, humbleness before the written language. I checked the text over and over again before granting a 'passed' stamp. People around me look their heads – "They're sure it's all right now, you've only spent three weeks with those five pages." It was not humbleness to them.
My idea of humbleness includes the ambition to never let the reader feel snubbed. There is a difference between "do not walk like that, you will hurt your feet" and "if you walk like that, you will hurt your feet". The difference between the pointer and the humble hint. Splitting hairs, you may think. Okay, we do not analyze the text that carefully during reading, but these little particulars create atmosphere. Even if we can not put our finger on the reason, some texts appeal to us more than others do. The language is a delicate tool.
Over the years I have published six thrillers and I hope that my humble attitude has not faded or proceeded into something less agreeable. Our self-picture need not be in accordance with other people's opinion. My grandmother died long before I had a chance to tell him about my dream to write fiction. His advice was general observation. Neverheless, it helped me adapting the right spirit through the first tough years of rejections. My disappointment filtered through "okay, they did not like it" instead of "those people just do not understand".
Some writers seem to have an inborn sense of language. Now and then we come across examples – a sentence or paragraph that make us stop reading to let the words mature. Then we read it again just for the good feeling. I experienced one of those elevated moments when I read this passage in Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby": "The only stationary object in the room was an awful couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though up an anchored balloon. both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. "
I love those turns. They make me feel humble before a great talent.