Writer in Residence

Music, Writing, and the Practice of Art

By Erin Frances Fisher

Like many people in the arts, I have a number of jobs. For me, that includes writing, teaching writing, transcribing music notation, and teaching music.

Teaching music came first. For the last fifteen years I’ve worked at the Victoria Conservatory of Music teaching students how to play piano and how to understand the language of music through study of theory and musicianship. 

When I attend a literary festival or give a reading, I’m asked a reoccurring question—something along the lines of, “You’re a musician. Does that help with writing?”  

What I think the questioner is getting at is “is the muse of music the muse of writing” or, perhaps because people are so easily swayed emotionally through music, “as a musician are you better attuned to being artistically empathetic,” or, “Does It Make It Easier?”

My first response is to say no—writing is a lot of work, there’s no way of getting around that. But music does help with writing in the way, I think, any form of study helps with another: sticking to it. Finishing a project takes time and effort. I’m not a believer in muses. Sure, there are moments where stories come together, where the puzzle is finally solved and a project finally makes sense, but getting there takes time. Both music and writing require a foundation of language—reading and listening to what other people have done, and being delighted enough by it to try something for yourself. 

I think of the act of writing, of sitting down in front of the computer day after day, like practice. Write or research, trust something will come of it. Play your arpeggios, learn your pieces. It takes a lot study, years of reading music and building up a physical vocabulary on your instrument, in order to be able to play it. 

Enjoy the process. Get excited about fixing and experimenting. Expect the work to take time. Let it happen.


Erin in the early days, Victoria Conservatory of Music AGPH

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Erin Frances Fisher (MFA UVic, AVCM pedagogy/performance) is a writer and musician in Victoria, BC. Her short story collection THAT TINY LIFE was published by House of Anansi Press, March 2018, was a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize at the 2019 BC Book Prizes, and runner-up for the 2018 Danuta Gleed Literary Award. Her stories have appeared in Granta, The Malahat Review, PRISM international, Riddle Fence, and Little Fiction. She is the 2014 RBC Writer’s Trust Bronwen Wallace Emerging Writers recipient. Erin teaches piano at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, and is a sometimes sessional writing instructor at the University of Victoria.

Website: www.erinfrancesfisher.ca

Buy the Book

That Tiny Life

In settings that range from the old American West to pre-revolutionary France, from a present-day dig site in the high tablelands of South America to deep space, That Tiny Life is a wide-ranging and utterly original collection of short fiction and a novella that examines the idea of progress — humanity’s never-ending cycle of creation and destruction.

In the award-winning story, “Valley Floor,” a surgeon performs an amputation in the open desert in the American West. In “Da Capo al Fine,” set in eighteenth-century France, the creator of the fortepiano designs another, more brutal instrument. And in “That Tiny Life,” the reader gets a glimpse into a future in which human resource extraction goes far beyond Earth. Each story is infused with impeccably researched detail that brings obscure and fascinating subject matter into bright relief, be it falconry, ancient funeral rites, or space exploration. The result is an amazing interplay of minute detail against the backdrop of huge themes, such as human expression and impact, our need for connection, the innate violence in nature, and the god-complex present in all acts of human creation.

A highly accomplished, evocative, and wholly impressive work of short fiction, That Tiny Life introduces readers to a writer with limitless range and imagination.