One of your first tasks as a creative is to find your primary medium — your means of expression. This is composed of the raw materials and artistic forms you use in your work.
If you’re a novelist, journalist, poet, or screenwriter, your medium is the written word.
If you’re a comedian or a conference speaker, your medium is the spoken word.
Conversation is the medium of chat show hosts, psychotherapists, consultants, and podcasters.
A photographer or painter’s medium is made up of light and shadow, colour and composition.
Musicians play with rhythm, harmony, and melody.
Movie directors work with actors, crew, and script.
Mastering your medium is the bedrock of your creative practice. It’s how you do your best work, the work for which you will (hopefully) be remembered.
I say ‘find’ your medium rather than choose it, because I don’t think we have a choice in the matter. When you find your medium, it’s more like discovery or recognition than a decision. When I was a boy, I used to draw and paint all the time, but as a teenager I fell in love with poetry and left my art behind. There was no choice to make.
To achieve mastery, it helps to have a teacher and a group of peers to spark off, compete with, and measure yourself against. It could be a class, a group of apprentices, the writers’ room on a TV show, or the creative department in an agency. And whether you work alone or with others, there is no substitute for practice.
Mastering your medium is essential — but it’s not enough. As well as a means of expression, you need media — a means of communication.
Your media is how you share your work with the world. Without media, your medium won’t amount to much more than a pile of manuscripts in your cupboard, or a hard drive full of brilliant work that no one sees.
In some cases, your medium and your media may be similar or even identical.
If you’re a columnist then your columns are your medium, and their appearance in the newspaper constitutes your media.
If you’re a photographer, then it’s a short step from taking a photo to publishing it on Instagram.
If you’re a writer who publishes on Medium, then your articles are your medium, and — you guessed it! — Medium is your media.
But in many cases a creator’s medium and media are different but complementary. The non-fiction writer with a blog. The stand-up comedian with a YouTube channel. The artist with an email newsletter. The (ahem) poet with a podcast. And so on.
While I don’t believe you choose your medium, I do think you can choose your media, and even change it.
Choosing and building your own media platform can be a fun and rewarding challenge in its own right. And it may well evolve and change over time — as the media landscape changes, or you discover new and exciting ways to get your work out there.
Like your medium, your media will take time to master. You may well need a different teacher and group of peers to help you with this. Here are some other considerations:
It must not take too much time and creative energy away from your medium.
It must be enjoyable for you to produce — otherwise it won’t be sustainable.
It must be attractive enough to your intended audience. It would be hard work promoting classical music on Snapchat. A 5,000-word essay may not get people into your cartoons (although it worked pretty well for Hugh MacLeod, so don’t rule anything out).
It should slot easily into your schedule. You could have a daily routine of sharing photos on Instagram or Tweeting from your phone. Or a weekly rhythm of recording video or audio, outside of your writing or painting or rehearsal time. So it becomes an integral part of your creative life.
Find your medium. Choose your media.
You can hear an audio version of this article on this episode of The 21st Century Creative podcast, starting at 9’39”.