It wasn't always this way. When I first started to dabble in photography, it was all about sharpness with no grain. That's how "real" photographers made their images ie: Ansel Adams. Since he used an 8 x 10" negative, it was impossible to try to duplicate that kind of perfection using a 35mm negative.
It didn't take long for me to realize that these ultrasharp, grainless images did not have the "feel" I wanted anyway. I then discovered 3200 Kodak Tmax. I started to embrace the grain. I loved the softness I achieved with that film. (I must also confess that I can be a lazy photographer sometimes and shooting 3200 speed film meant I did not need to lug my tripod around.) Combine that grain with a little soft focus and soon I was getting close to the look I was envisioning.
Fast forward a few years and I have gone soft focus crazy. Applying this technique in Photoshop allows for so much more control. I have been using the Classic Soft Focus filter from the Nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 plugin, but there are many ways to achieve the same effect.
Recently I have been taking older images from my portfolio and completely changing their look. This image, "Reaching" was made over 10 years ago. Hopefully you can see the difference adding the soft focus made: