I can still remember how felt the first time something I wrote was published.
I was a freshman at Oklahoma State University, and I was in my second semester of journalism school. There was a pro-choice group who had lawfully erected a large political display on campus, and it had been vandalized one night. This was the first story I was assigned. I remember going to the organization’s meeting and being “that reporter from the O’Colly.” I remember being proud of giving fair coverage to an organization I did not agree with, and defending their freedom of speech.
But most of all, I remember exactly what it felt like to pick up the copy of the newspaper with my story in it.
I remember opening up the paper and finding the story. I remember reading my words in print. I remember getting up early in the morning to be there when the paper was delivered to my fraternity house. I remember the compliments from my friends, and my teacher mentioning it in class. It felt like such an accomplishment. As cheesy as it might sound, it was magical.
Why is that? Why is seeing your words—your name!—in print such a powerful experience for a writer?
Writing is an act of creation. While it can be easy to lose sight of sometimes, something magical happens when a writer sees their finished work on the page, or screen. When an article, a book, or even a blog post like this becomes reality, the writer has brought something new into the world. This is a powerful moment that never gets old for the writer.
This should not be surprising, because this is an aspect of our role as the imago Dei—the image of God. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us,
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
One of God’s purposes in creating humans was to represent him—to image him—in the world. He created us to share and demonstrate many aspects of his character, even though we do so imperfectly. One of the ways that we are like God is our capacity to create. Our ability to take many raw, disparate ingredients and combine and recombine them in interesting ways to make something new is a part of being made in the image of God. When we create, there is a shadow—or maybe better put, a spark—of the divine in that act. When we create, we are representing God.
But our acts of creation are not the same as God’s either, for He is God, and we are not. God creates out of nothing—ex nihilo—where we do not. Everything that we create uses God’s original creation as raw materials. Our creative acts are actually act of subordinate creation, acts which imitate Him and build upon His creation.
J.R.R. Tolkien coined the term “subcreation” in reference to the fictional worlds an author builds1. But his term is much more powerful than that application alone. All creative work done by human hands and minds is subcreation, because all of our materials—words, ideas, experiences, relationships, etc.—came from the sovereign God and Creator of the universe. There is nothing that we can dream up that did not exist in the mind of God first.
When we write, when we create, we are echoing God’s own creative acts. When our ideas come to life, and readers from around the world can pick them up, read them, and engage with our ideas, we are imaging God’s creative power to the world. And when we write with these truths in mind, when we create in the ways God intends, we glorify Him not only in our final work, but in our acts of creation.
God designed us to represent His creativity to the world. So, any time we write, build, or create something, that sub creative act is powerful. It’s magical. And it glorifies the true Creator, thereby fulfilling our purpose as artists and humans.
Tolkien, John Ronald Ruel. “On Fairy-Stories.” 1939. ↩