Making Inspiration a Habit + Reclaiming Creativity with Morgan Harper Nichols
In this episode of The Feel Good Effect, we’re sitting down with Morgan Harper Nichols! She’s sharing a glimpse at her new book, her creative process & how she fosters inspiration in her life.
Listen to the episode or read the article to learn Morgan’s tactical tips for cultivating creativity and inspiration in your own life.
making inspiration a habit & reclaiming creativity with morgan harper nichols
You may know Morgan Harper Nichols from her published illustrated poetry collections, or the works she freely shares on her (wildly popular) instagram page. Her words and her art have had a huge impact on me, and I know I’m not alone in recognizing Morgan as one of the greatest poets of our time. So it’s such a gift to get a glimpse at her creative process and hear how she stays inspired to create.
Whether you’re new to her work or a long-time fan (like me), I think you’ll get a lot out of this conversation.
“when I take the pressure off myself…words slowly begin to find me from there”Morgan Harper Nichols
meet guest, poet & artist: morgan harper nichols
Lately, Morgan’s process of writing and art has been allowing color to influence what she writes. Using technology, Morgan pulls colors from photos and turns them into art. Morgan came to write her latest book, How Far You Have Come, from an iPhone photograph took on a road trip through New Mexico. It’s her favorite photo and one she has pulled so many color palettes from since.
The sun was rising over the canyons and created a picturesque scene. There was a dominant moment where she felt so proud of her photo and at the same time, her day felt like complete chaos. She was broke, in her mid-twenties, & exhausted amid a career change.
Two seemingly opposite moments were happening at once. Morgan was at a really difficult point in her life, and at the same time she managed to pull her phone out and capture something amazing. Something that years later ended up becoming the cover of her book filled with art and poetry (something she was not doing at that time).
finding ways to stay inspired
Our photographs are a really accessible place to start looking for inspiration. We could take a photo today of the leaves on the tree outside or the blueness of the sky and we may not even see the beauty of it until months or years later when we stumble across it in our phone. Inspiration doesn’t always come easily, but Morgan is a believer in finding ways to stay inspired. Even if it’s simply through trying to find peace and beauty in the smallest things.
Taking photos on your phone can be a great way to start cultivating a habit of inspiration.
taking the pressure off your creativity
Morgan tends to get in her head a lot, in her words “way more than I’d like to admit”. But when she takes the pressure off trying to find the ‘right’ thing to say and instead focuses on creating her art, words slowly begin to find her. The reverse process can also happen. Sometimes Morgan writes words in her notes app throughout the day and comes back to it later to try and pair it with a painting.
Morgan used to paint something and then try to figure out what it should say. In fact, a lot of what she does is write specifically to people. Sometimes they email her their story and she responds directly, sending that person words in art. This process trained her to feel like words need art and like if she’s going to create art then her art better have something to say.
More recently, however, she has been pausing and catching herself in that pressured mindset. She takes the pressure off by challenging those self-imposed rules, even adding some pieces to her shop that don’t have any words on it. Keeping them as separate processes or keeping her process more fluid takes the pressure off.
Sometimes zooming out can help you remember that when it comes to your creations – if you made the rules for yourself, then you are also allowed to change them.
how morgan’s newest book came to be (and how she found inspiration after everything changed)
The journey from Morgan’s first book to the next was very visual. One thing she didn’t get to do in All Along You Were Blooming was add photography. Morgan did do all the art, all the design, and page layouts – but she was hesitant to add any photography, feeling like it was just another thing she didn’t have the capacity for.
Morgan takes a lot of iPhone photos but she also has a professional camera and did photography back in the day. She was motivated to travel and take photos to incorporate into her next book, but then march 2020 happened. So instead, she scrolled through her phone camera roll and picked out her favorite photos from there – which is how she landed on that sunrise photo from New Mexico. As she started painting over it, all the emotions and feelings she had from that trip started to come up. So she wrote about that.
It was reflecting on how she used to travel more than she can now and feeling like she used to do more exciting things than she does now that led Morgan to her camera roll to look deeper.
In the Apple photos app, there is a map feature that allows you to see where photos were taken. Using that, she noticed that the place she had the most photos of was from the southern border of the United States. Morgan grew up in Georgia and at the time of writing this book she was living in California, so she had taken that road trip across the southern border so many times. There were so many stories there. How Far You Have Come started by looking at the map, looking at the photos, and remembering all those stories and everything she learned along the way. It came from writing about the different emotions, different places, and how others may be able to connect with them.
At the moment that so many of these photos were taken, those intentions were not behind it, yet all these years later the beauty in it is appreciated.
“I have to go deeper into what’s already happened in my life and learn how to appreciate it for what it was and learn how to see the beauty in it for what it was and trust that I’ll have more moments like that”.Morgan Harper Nichols
art & poetry can help ground us in the present moment
There is so much grief and ambiguous loss right now and it’s going to take us a long time to find the words and meaning. Morgan hopes to give people permission to take that time and relieve some of that pressure. She feels a lot of pressure herself and knows she’s not the only one.
There’s a lot of pressure to see the positive right away, but some things will take time and that’s okay. Art and poetry can help people take a big breath. Encourage one another gentleness.
Morgan’s work can be a reminder of one’s own truth or inner wisdom that is often forgotten in the business of life. When she writes, she isn’t that interested in saying something new, it really is about helping people remember what they already know. Before she shares a piece of work, she reflects on it to see if it feels like something a grandmother would say, and if it’s a yes, then she shares it. Everyone has different reasons for sharing their art and words. Morgan’s reason is to share something people can take in as a reminder of what they already knew.
There is a huge difference between trying to fix yourself and remembering what is true for you but that you might be forgetting. Morgan’s work really does that, it makes an offering that maybe you don’t need to be fixed, but maybe you just need to remember. That’s where the ability to change comes from. Instead of pushing people to accountability, she wants to help people come back to the present moment.
“We’re all in this together but the way we process will not look the same. Some will find the good in a matter of minutes and for others, this will take years”.Morgan Harper Nichols
creating habits of creativity & inspiration (without adding in perfectionism)
Morgan has started to redefine inspiration for herself, coming from a definition she read about how the word inspiration is sometimes used to describe inhalation. She noticed she was thinking about inspiration as something she needed to put out, but this other definition offers inspiration as just taking in a breath.
Now, inspiration is something she sees happening all day. Seeing something online that is upsetting, looking at a color palette that she likes, making a new observation, or seeing a commercial that makes her laugh – all of that is inspiration being taken in. Doing this fills her up and then when she goes to create, that’s the exhale, letting it all out.
Morgan typically creates in the mornings when the house and neighborhood are quiet for a few hours. In those moments she is incredibly practical about it, asking herself, “what is the thing I just can’t stop thinking about?”. For example, there was a touching episode of a show her son likes to watch, and instead of sitting down and writing about that show, she reflects on what that emotion was, what about that episode was touching. It was about family, legacy, and hoping you leave something valuable and important for those who are coming after you, and she reflected on this value as something important to her. So she journals about that and sees what comes. Sometimes it’s a kid’s show, sometimes it’s a color palette, sometimes it’s a screenshot on her phone that she sent to her sister, reflecting on what it is about that thing that she found to be meaningful. Inspiration isn’t just what we see, it’s all sensory information, and we may not even be consciously aware.
The end goal is exhalation. It’s not about what we get at the end of it, it’s just the process of letting it back out. Give yourself space to exhale. Are you holding all of the inspiration in and there is really no way for it to come out? Allow yourself to exhale into creativity (using whatever form you feel called to create). It’s the process versus the outcome that matters. And you may not see how something is part of the process right now, that may come later.
“We all process differently. We process in different ways, in different seasons”.Morgan Harper Nichols
what is your intention for people who are getting this book?
Morgan hopes it helps other people create or reclaim beauty in their stories. She hopes that in her sharing her stories and her art, that others are able to see beauty in theirs. That they can write in their journal, commemorate their stories, and share with others. Sometimes you may look at a chapter in your life and not know what the meaning was or maybe it’s not something you want to explore deeply right now. There are a lot of us looking back on our lives right now and Morgan hopes her books help people find beauty in that.
what does it really mean to be healthy?
“When you said that to me, this was the first thing that came to mind and then I doubted it… and that was that it starts with the heart… now that I’ve said it I can see. There’s a lot that connects to the heart from a physical, emotional, spiritual… sometimes it’s learning how to sit in the present with what is, being present with the emotions that are coming up, and knowing that there is grace for all of that and to not be afraid of that place… I am learning to start with the heart and go from there”Morgan Harper Nichols
Popular Instagram poet and artist Morgan Harper Nichols has created her life’s work around the stories of others. Morgan’s popular Instagram feed (@morganharpernichols) has garnered a loyal online community, and she is the author of All Along You Were Blooming, a book of poems and art she created in response to the personal stories submitted by her friends and followers. Known for its lyrical tone and vibrant imagery, Morgan’s work is an organic expression of the grace and hope we’ve been given in this world. Morgan has also performed as a vocalist on several GRAMMY-nominated projects and written for various artists, including a Billboard #1 single performed by her sister, Jamie-Grace. Morgan is often on the road creating, teaching, and performing, in hopes of spreading her unique inspirational message and inviting others into her creative process. Morgan currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona with her family.
How Far You Have Come by Morgan Harper Nichols
All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts for Boundless Living by Morgan Harper Nichols
Connect with Morgan on Instagram @morganharpernichols
other feel good effect episodes you’ll love
A Self-Care Practice for Courage, Hope & Healing with Alex Elle
Feeling Disconnected? Here’s How to Connect & Belong with Sebene Selassie
A Simple Mindset Shift to Change Your Life: Good Morning, I Love You with Dr. Shauna Shapiro
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Just listened to this episode …Do you remember what Instagram post of Morgan’s so inspired your daughter (idea of using photo colors)? I would like to have mine watch it
Hi Ann, so glad you enjoyed this episode! Morgan used to have it saved to her highlights, but I don’t see it there anymore, so not sure if there’s a way to access it now. If I ever come across it again or find something similar I’ll drop a note for you here!