What kind of writer-bird are you? Gayle Brandeis looks at different species of birds and their nest building techniques and considers how our fine feathered friends’ creative processes might intersect with our own as writers.

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What kind of writer-bird are you? Gayle Brandeis looks at different species of birds and their nest building techniques and considers how our fine feathered friends’ creative processes might intersect with our own as writers.

Creativity abounds in the natural world. I love learning about the wild ways creatures construct their homes, the stunning variety of materials and techniques they use, and thought it would be fun to look at different types of nest building and consider how our fine feathered friends’ creative processes might intersect with our own as writers.

Take a look—what kind of writer-bird are you? How do you build your own nest of words?


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Joe Schneid, Louisville, Kentucky , from Wikimedia Commons


Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) builds its nest out of ephemeral things—dandelion down, thistle, spider silk, moss—crafting a thimble-sized home that is both flexible and surprisingly strong.

If you’re a Ruby-throated Hummingbird as a writer, you often start with a wisp of idea, a flash of inspiration—an image, say, or a compelling word; if you keep building and building upon this, you can craft a piece of writing that can hold you, that can surprise you, one that can withstand the elements.


Specimen: Margaret Atwood

“When I'm writing a novel, what comes first is an image, scene, or voice. Something fairly small. Sometimes that seed is contained in a poem I've already written. The structure or design gets worked out in the course of the writing. I couldn't write the other way round, with structure first. It would be too much like paint-by-numbers.” (Source)

Specimen: Toni Morrison

“I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea.” (Source)


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Shantanu Kuveskar , from Wikimedia Commons


Common Tailorbird

The Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius) creates an intricate frame first, stitching leaves together with its beak and silk thread, then building its nest within the frame it has constructed.

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If you are a Common Tailorbird as a writer, you like to know your structure before you start; you create an outline, a skeleton to carry your story, then flesh out all the details as you go.

Specimen: Orhan Pamuk

“I’m a relatively disciplined writer who composes the whole book before beginning to execute and write it. Of course, you … cannot imagine a whole novel before you write it; there are limits to human memory and imagination. Lots of things come to your mind as you write a book, but again, I make a plan know the plot.” (Source)

Specimen: Marlon James

“I plot meticulously. I have books and books and charts and charts. And then I promptly ignore all of it. Because I think what I really wanted was to get my head in order, and then I’ll write.” (Source)