June 3, 2021
Today’s guest needs no introduction because she’s incredible. When we first started this show back in November 2019, we wrote a list of our dream guests we wanted to interview, this woman’s name was on that list. And here we are. The day has come. Today we had the honor of chatting with Morgan Harper Nichols.
Morgan Harper Nichols is a popular Instagram poet and artist who has created her life’s work around the stories of others. Morgan’s Instagram feed has garnered a loyal online community, and she is the author of All Along You Were Blooming, and her recent book How Far You’ve Come. 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.
If you’ve been on Instagram for any amount of time, we can guarantee you’ve seen Morgan’s art and words either on your explore page or shared via a friend. She has such a way with words and art that speaks to people’s souls and makes them feel not alone in whatever they’re going through. We chatted with her today about how she became a writer and artist if she always saw herself pursuing creativity as a career, where she gets her inspiration for her work from, her diagnosis with autism earlier this year, and advice for someone walking through a season of grief or unknown. Her words today will speak so deeply to your heart, inspiring you on your journey in big and beautiful ways.
Morgan is a visual and music artist, she writes poetry and prose and does a lot of different artistic collaborations. With her app and an online shop that has journals and other things, a little all over the place but at the same time, it is all kind of the same thing in different ways.
Growing up in a creative friendly home, as she’s gotten older realized a lot of people were discouraged at being creative when growing up or not be an artist. Grateful for that guidance from her parents, she grew up with her mom telling her sister and her to make something new every day.
Both of her parents were pastors and used their ministry to teach her siblings creativity. Morgan was more introverted and reserved and struggled because she enjoyed being involved in creative things but simultaneously felt very overwhelmed. Writing became her safe space, from a young age she loved journalling. To this day the physical aspect of moving her hand calms her down.
She never thought she would become an author one day. Her mom and other people would say it to her, but she didn’t know what they meant by it. She didn’t know how to make that happen. Her writing was more prominent and has a lot of journals from when she was a kid and didn’t realize simultaneously was drawing as well. Morgan wouldn’t say she was good at art. We all knew that kid that was an amazing artist growing up, that wasn’t Morgan.
As much as Morgan was interested in writing she was with art, but wouldn’t share it very much. She would just draw for herself which persisted through her mid-twenties. Looking back through notebooks from her sophomore year of college she finds flowers she had drawn that are very similar to the ones she draws now. But back then she wouldn’t have called herself an artist.
Writing and art were throughout her whole life, she had thousands of different blogs, but it wasn’t until her mid-twenties with the financial toll of student debt while trying to be an artist full time, made her rethink it all.
That has led her to where she is today, finding art in a way that would end up being financially supportive. That was new. Before that and even after it has been a lot of trying different things and being open to art and all its mediums.
There is not a clear roadmap for artists.
Morgan wanted to be an author or something, but only under certain conditions. She wanted to be able to have a quiet dark room so that she could light candles and write there. She struggled because she loved to be able to write, but felt she couldn’t because she wasn’t a charismatic, high-energy person. She was hesitant.
Being a preachers kid you were singing solos at church, which Morgan was always reluctant about. Her sister and her would do the Powerpoint for song lyrics and that was the place she wanted to be. Nobody could see her, she got to make pretty backgrounds and put the songs on the screen. That was what she wanted to do. Always struggling with the spotlight as she started to play instruments, she felt the expectation was you had to perform. You had to be in front of people.
Finally giving in, to at least try and be in front of people was when her younger sister started a full-time career in music. Long story short, Morgan essentially followed her around. She felt more comfortable doing things with her sister as she was a natural performer and more comfortable on stage than her. Whenever we have a friend to do something with we feel more comfortable. From that season with her sister, Morgan becomes a touring musician, playing live shows, had a record deal, and did that for five years. That was the first big chapter in her life as a musician.
After five years Morgan started to faze out of the musician career as it can be very difficult as a female artist to get support financial to sustain a career. Morgan was playing a lot of shows but always was thinking how she would pay rent next month. Her husband was working in the music industry as well on the tour management side. A lot of it felt unstable. What were they going to do? Was it going to be like this forever? From there Morgan started to journal that turned into a poem.
This may come as a surprise to some people but Morgan was and still is terrified of Instagram. She doesn’t know how people share stories and their lives there. She has a lot of anxiety around it. She was active on Instagram as a musician and would share about her music and touring, but wasn’t sharing much else there and felt she didn’t have the permission to do that.
It’s funny how we create preconceived notions in our heads of what we do and don’t do. For Morgan that was one of them for her. She only wanted to share her poems in her journal. She finally had an Instagram account that she would share but didn’t have her name attached to it. She would love to share but it felt like too much pressure.
After writing a poem in November of 2016 that she shared and at the last second she decided to put her name on it. Not wanting to share it on Instagram, because that was too much pressure, she shared it on Pinterest. That following January it had been repinned over 100,000 times. People started posting it on Instagram and she figures if people are sharing it, I might as well too on there.
Morgan feels like in many ways she stands on the shoulders of a lot of people, artists, and writers that have come before her. She reads a lot. The last year she has been expanding her home library and one thing she loves about poetry as a busy mom is you can easily flip open to a poem, read it and it can mean something to you.
She spends a lot of time taking in a lot of poetry. Taking in a lot of words. Listening to audiobooks, podcasts and will listen to her favorite audiobooks over and over. One of her favorites is Riding Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which she has listened to six or seven times now. Morgan is a firm believer in taking things in and not always worrying about taking notes and retaining everything you learned. Just take in wisdom, take in the words of other writers that you enjoy. Eventually, you’ll look at your work and you’ll see that there are ripple effects of what they did that’s in your work as well.
She also spends a lot of time taking in a lot of art. Since 2018 she has a private Pinterest folder for every year that she’ll dump pin everything she likes. It could be the exact shade of yellow of the stripe on the road that stood out to her. Or the color of blue of a certain book cover. It is all over the place and is super unorganized but when she has those moments where she’ll sit and scroll through her phone, she tries to train herself to scroll through that. All the art she has been collecting and just take it in.
Morgan started writing and working on this book at the beginning of the first lockdown last year, which was a weird time to work on a book because she had no idea what to say. She had no idea what’s ahead, no one had any idea what’s ahead. How would one write anything that makes sense? She was struggling and when that happens she usually travels somewhere, but she couldn’t. For whatever reason, she started scrolling through her photo album on her phone of past trips. She ended up on this photo that was sunrise in Alburquerque, New Mexico. The rock faces were beautiful and the sky was opening up and as she was looking at that photo and thought isn’t that interesting. She loves this photo so much, has so many positive associations with it but at the same time was a part of her life that was hard. At the time that photo was taken she was dealing with so many uncertainties of being a touring musician and the financial insecurity. As she was thinking about this moment, she realized there had to be other moments like this in her life.
Even though she was struggling, the landscape itself that she was on was so beautiful and was teaching her something. Something that she did not see at the time.
This led to Morgan scrolling through her phone’s camera roll and started looking at all the places she has been and the photos she has taken. The road trip from Georgie (her hometown) to California was one she had taken many times and had many stories similar to the New Mexico photo.
Where she was somewhere that was beautiful to her or had some kind of ascetic significance, but at the same time, there was this whole other thing going on internally. That led Morgan to create eight sections that start in Georgia and goes through eight states to California. Looking at the beauty and courage of each of those landscapes. As she started writing she started thinking about all the stories people have shared with her over the years and wanted to create something that honors their journey. The fact that we have all come far. The actual physical miles, even if you have only been in a 20-mile radius of where you grew up. If you think about the sheer amount of times that you have left your home and come back, you’ve traveled so many miles.
The photo that Morgan mentioned that inspired her new book is the cover of the book and she insisted that that was the cover. For her it is symbolic in that when she took that photo she wasn’t an artist, she wasn’t doing any of the things she is going now. But yet there was something in her that said this is a beautiful moment, capture it. She wasn’t sharing moments like that on Instagram. She wasn’t selling art prints in a store, didn’t have products in a store, didn’t have any of that stuff. Just soak in that moment, take this photo and let it be beautiful for what it is even if there are all of these other things in your life not figured out.
Every time she looks at that photo she thinks about what photos she can take right now that will have that same impact. What things can she record right now and look back 5, 7, 8, or 9 years and think isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that so beautiful you can still manage to find joy every day?
That is what Morga hopes for everybody. Take a bunch of photos. Take every little thing that you find funny, take a screenshot of it. Hold every little moment, no matter how silly it seems. Take photos that when you take them, you think you won’t share with anyone. That is a good practice because we sometimes forget just how beautiful it is to have that moment without needing everybody’s feedback on it. This is your moment, you had it. And that is enough. Everyone should have those moments throughout their day that helps them find joy and remember what is possible even if it takes time for it to fall into place.
Since she was young her parents thought it could be a possibility that she was on the autism spectrum, however back in the ’90s and even further back than it was hard especially for girls to get diagnosed. Since a lot of it was boys and there wasn’t a lot of research out there for girls. Morgan grew up feeling like she wasn’t quite getting everything as others were.
Autism is developmental and neurological and affects everything as much as social and communication abilities and can affect everybody differently. A lot of people with autism including Morgan deal with a lot of censoring issues, as she was but didn’t have a name for it. She just thought she needed more sleep or would grow out of it.
When she turned 27 she realized she was struggling a lot with the social and communication stuff and realized she wouldn’t grow out of it. She was in her late twenties and past the stage, you would grow out of something. Going to see her primary care doctor ask him if there is a possibility she was autistic or on the spectrum. Not even knowing what that looked like, she wanted to talk to someone and gather information. He shot her down right away. Telling her she has nothing to worry about as she is perfectly normal. Unfortunately, she took his word and walked out of that office and thought whatever is wrong was now her problem to fix.
It took until last year when the Tik Tok algorithm decided to show Morgan some videos of women who had been diagnosed with autism as adults. It was through their videos that she saw herself and those women were describing her entire life. That’s what gave her the courage to pursue a diagnosis and talk to a specialist. That began a whole several-month process of getting diagnosed and once she received the diagnosis, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to share it with everyone. After receiving the diagnosis on a Saturday, she told her family in a group message because she was so overwhelmed. Her family was so supportive that it gave her more courage than if she were to share, she at least had her family’s support. They were so supportive and that let me know that if I share this no matter what happens from sharing this you at least have a family who is supportive of you.
That following Thursday, for whatever reason, Morgan woke up and wanted to share it that day. She hadn’t thought about sharing it, she knew that morning though. She first wrote it out as a long blog post and then had to get it down to 2200 characters for an Instagram post. Once she pressed publish she had continuously received messages and hearing from people who are either on the same journey or aren’t getting the support or felt seen by what she had said.
One of the moments where Morgan didn’t know what to say, she was at a loss for words, couldn’t move. Was back at an even in 2019, at one of her first speaking events, and was meeting people after. This woman walked up to her and put her phone out and said you made this for me.
For those who don’t know, Morgan invites people to send her emails and DM’s and she’ll respond with poetry and art. If she receives it via email she won’t see names or faces usually, so she had never seen this woman’s face before. Wouldn’t be able to recognize her but the second she saw that art, that woman’s story came flooding back to her. She remembered the whole process of opening her message, reading her story, making her art, sending it to her. All of that flooded in Morgans’ mind and usually doesn’t happen.
It stood as a reminder of the power of connection and how it kind of transcends what we think is possible. That we can connect with someone that we have never met before in this really real way.
Another one that she had was at the very beginning of January 2020, she had shared an artistic prompt on her Instagram story and it didn’t get a ton of feedback which made her think nobody cares about this stuff. People just want to see the art, they don’t want to see the process. The next day Morgan was at a book signing for her last book and these two middle school girls had come up to her and they had both done the whole project. It was a product using photos on their phone and they had done it with several photos. They were up all night working on this and here is what they created. They had created this whole gallery of art and were so happy about it and that was such a moment of “this is why I do what I do”. She did that whole thing for those two girls. If no one else did it that is fine, it was so those two girls could have that moment.
Take the pressure off to figure out the right way to navigate through this. There is no one way. If you are processing grief or an extreme loss, there is no “here is the way”. That does not exist. If it feels hard that’s because it is. You have never been there before. Take the pressure off yourself to do it the right way. Know that there is grace through navigating this every day, every hour, one at a time.
If you have some days where all you want to do is sit on the couch and watch Netflix and not respond to text messages right away, you can do that. If there are other days where you feel like you can do this or that, then do that.
There is no template or one way to navigate through this. One day you will look and see that you navigated through it in the way that you were meant to and that is what ultimately matters.
Learn how to listen to other people’s ideas. That is how Morgan can do what she does today. The main source of revenue for what she does in her online shop and she cannot take credit for it, it was her husband’s idea.
He told her she should sell her 8×1- prints of her art, but Morgan wasn’t so sure. Her husband who doesn’t use social media, what does he know? She was very wrong. After a month of opening the shop, he was able to leave his job of construction and they both went full time with her shop, with health care and everything.
Since that moment Morgan decided, she is an artist and has lots of ideas but other people have lots of great ideas too.
Even if you are just starting and people are leaving comments, pay attention to those comments. Other people have ideas, keep your eyes and ears open and you will be so surprised with the power of collaboration.
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