Missy Lacock

Missy Lacock is a freelance editor and sometimes writer from Missoula, Montana—yes, the state that previously didn’t have speed limits. (Missy drives very fast and gets lost often.) Before launching her current editorial service, Missy Lacock Editorial, she earned her stripes in-house at various publishing companies and completed a master's degree in Writing: Book Publishing. Her love is copyediting manuscripts. She is a freakin’ giant nerd. Missy loves the sun, road trips, and music and is terrible at chess. Her favorite book is We Need to Talk about Kevin—but there are a million in close second.

Starting My Book: Nine Things I Learned During NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) came and went, and I did my best-ish—which is more than I can usually say, so LOUD NOISES! I’m a mediocre champion.

Did I write the full 50,000 words in a month? Please, fool. Don’t ask a woman her age or weight, and don’t ask a writer about her word count.

I did, however, finally start the book that has been baking in my skull for years, and I’ll take what I can get. Regardless of the number of words I actually slopped onto paper, NaNoWriMo wasn’t about how good those words were (thank the writing gods). Instead, NaNoWriMo was an education, schooling me hard about what it means to be a real writer—instead of just calling myself one. Here’s what I learned about being an actual, madcap, doing-it writer (without the booze but with the cat).

Writing-induced insomnia.

I usually sleep long, easy, and through anything, but even I suffered nights of wakefulness after writing. My mind…I don’t know, something happened to it when it was engaged in prose and story. There was nothing I could do to slow it from racing in wild, writerly circles long after I had set my alarm, and yes, my anxiety increased with my word count. (There’s nothing like a panic attack while you’re trying to sleep.) Also, counting sheep only adds them to your novel, so don’t.

Bookish dreams.

When I finally fell asleep, there they were—my characters, my plot, my setting. Fortunately, being able to watch my book’s wildfire race down the hill or be locked in my book’s basement was helpful. Experiencing the world I was building via dreams became a tool, lending perspective, authenticity, and fresh ideas to the thing.


My New Favorite Holiday


Look, I like weird, pagan traditions like dragging a live/soon-to-be-not-live tree in the house as much as the next confused American, but I’m the first to welcome a holiday that makes sense: National Readathon Day (January 24), sponsored by the National Book Foundation, Goodreads, Penguin Random House, and Mashable.

The first-ever holiday gave bookworms an all-day excuse to read—and if that isn’t cause for celebration, what the hell is? Not only did the holiday rake in donations for the National Book Foundation’s literacy programs, but it also raised awareness about some pretty bad news: 40 percent of American adults are barely proficient readers, and 14 percent can’t read at all. Yikes.

It’s too bad it takes a gimmick to remind me, a lapsed reader, of my first love, but the campaign was a much-needed call back to the book and a challenge to consider what my life would have been like without Wayside School and Hank the Cowdog and birthmarks and veils and maypoles and naked pictures of famous people (a lot less harebrained adventuring and thinking, is what). So I gave my measly $10 via FirstGiving, joined bookworms across America, and cracked open a brand-spankin’ new Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. And since it was an oddly social event for an entirely antisocial activity, I live tweeted the holiday until midnight. (The official rules called for a reading marathon from noon to 4 p.m., but real bookworms would hardly call four hours a “marathon.”)


The Ten Commandments for Editors

I’ve come a long way from copy editing my college newspaper for coffee money, when my main rule was don’t let another “recieve” go to print (yeah, that happened). I possess more technique now, thank God, and editing copy from novels to law books to financial articles feels like home. In many ways, I’m finally living my dream: I make my entire living by editing and writing, and no, I don’t need to wear orange hats on the weekends. When people ask how to be a successful editor, I recite this creed.

Thou shalt slow down. It’s easy to read and read quickly, but that’s not editing. Look at every word and element and question the hell out of them.

Thou shalt cut. All—and I mean all—writing is better with a few casualties. Tighten up copy by killing deadwood and being concise. Using the most direct presentation is the difference between being an amateur and being a pro.

Thou shalt love Merriam-Webster. “Jackanapes” isn’t spelled how you’d expect, “efficacy” is a noun, and you can learn a lot about hyphens by using the dictionary.

Book It: Return of the Bookworm

Most ’90s kids remember things like jelly shoes, The Magic School Bus, and Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers. My favorite, however, combined two magical things: books and pizza. That’s right, Mrs. JTT—the Pizza Hut Book It Program.

Happy news: The program is still going strong. Happier news: To celebrate the program turning thirty this year, The Hut is giving free personal pan pizzas to Book It alumni. The offer ends today, so register for your free pie here, and good luck fighting the nostalgia.

I took advantage of the offer last week and realized a lot had changed since I was in grade school, when I hadn’t grown into my teeth yet. Not only is eating pizza a perilous adventure now that my metabolism has jumped ship, but reading is…well, not quite what it used to be, either.

My Book It Alumni gift with a few old friends.
My Book It Alumni gift with a few old friends.

I was an insatiable reader from the beginning. I raced through my first grade reader, which was assigned for the entire year, in one night. Under a blanket. With my flashlight. As young as nine years old, I packed a messy peanut butter and jelly sandwich every Saturday and rode the city bus to the public library, camping out on the floor and consuming stacks of Hank the Cowdog and Mandy books. Later, I heard my dad say I was a “huge bookworm” and knew I should be a little offended—but the term stuck, and now it’s my favorite compliment.

The problem is I don’t know if I can call myself a true bookworm anymore—and that is the most depressing thought I’ve had all day.

I still never go anywhere without a book, and I have small towers stacked around my apartment—but saying “I love you” just isn’t good enough, and they know it. After all, I carry my books around more than I read them.


Why YA?

Recent literary blockbusters have one thing in common: their genre. Yep, I’m talking about Young Adult. Series like Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Divergent and standalones like Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska dominate bestseller lists. We all make fun of YA literature, but its enormous success is proof that it’s doing something right—and chances are we’ve all shelled out cash to support the enterprise (don’t lie).

Last week, the writers of The Poetics Project chatted about why YA books are so damn popular. Some talked about universal themes, about characters “finding themselves,” about guiding elements to surviving even adult life. For me, it was simple: YA literature is always about being “the one.” It appeals to the human ego, i.e. yes, I am unique, damnit. The genre especially capitalizes on its young adult audience. After all, young adults are still mercifully illusioned by pep talks: You can be whatever you want to be (insert no statistics here).

Harry Potter? The one who lived, destined to vanquish You Know Who. Katniss from The Hunger Games? The one who conquered the games and launched a rebellion. Tris from Divergent? The one who didn’t fit the system and thwarted genocide. Even the YA classic The Giver is about the one who snagged an elite position and abandoned it in favor of original thought.

These books let us experience remarkable talent or pluck or destiny—but NEVER the everyday existence of cogs in a machine. In fact, literary heroes have already won because they have their own damn books. We even call them “heroes” whether they do anything heroic or not. Their world revolves around them, just like we think ours revolves around us. There’s nothing like realizing, uh, the earth revolves around the sun, and our planet is barely a speck of cosmic goo in the scale of things.


Write Now: Don’t Put It Off

It’s not very often you discover a secret to life, but get ready—I just learned a whopper (you’re welcome).

Every goal I have and every weakness I want eradicated can be achieved by figuring out one thing: how to quit procrastinating.

I’ll start eating healthy after cleaning this bowl of cookie dough. I’ll write that chapter tomorrow. I’ll work out Monday. I’ll finish that to-read stack, clean the litter box, floss—later later later. I’m never on time for anything, and even hitting the snooze button is just a way of procrastinating six times before I get up.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9SWJRwvHb4&w=420&h=315]

I didn’t understand how procrastinating was single-handedly thwarting everything in my life until I read about “The Procrastination Doom Loop” in The Atlantic and realized “later” may never arrive. Why? We don’t procrastinate because of poor time management; we procrastinate because 1) we feel like we’re in the wrong mood, and 2) we assume our mood will change in the future, which—let’s face it—rarely happens. My aunt, for example, sent Christmas cards every year with the same message, “Will write more later”—a spectacular example of how to hang fire.

So, I decided kicking procrastination may be the key to life without regret. After all, fulfillment literally means “the process of doing what is required,” not “avoiding it at all cost.” I have goals and a vision for my life, but I need to break that procrastination cycle if I want them to become realities.

Procrastination is most detrimental to writers, who—ironically—are notorious procrastinators. On one hand, writing may be our livelihoods, and regular writing is the only way to improve, produce material, build a portfolio, or avoid seeing poor-quality pieces killed after squeaking them out under deadline. On the other hand, writing is more than a job (for some of us, it may never be our jobs). Writing is our identity, i.e. “I am writer,” or “I think, therefore I write.” If we’re not writing—if we’re only thinking about writing, tomorrow—can we even call ourselves writers? Who are we really? Just students or interns or baristas slinging lattes who imagine writing, the way I imagine I can do a pull-up (I can’t).


Motivational Movies for Writers, Part Three

This final installation of movies for writers is brought to you by Missy Lacock, Insecure Writer Extraordinaire (at least this week). And I needed these motivational films just as much as the next poor writing sap.

First: It’s easy to NOT write—even for writers. And observing and thinking creatively is still not writing, people. Tools like these movies remind us we can’t improve or have a product to publish if we don’t actually produce it. Only writers are dumb enough to forget that.

Second: Like the editor-in-chief of this blog pointed out, writing’s the only activity with a “block” (there’s no such thing as “athlete’s block“); we need inspiration anywhere we can get it. Our jobs are to express something new, contribute something significant, but we need material and the creative fortitude to say anything at all.

And lastly: The life of a writer is a constant fluctuation between thinking we’re the best damn writers on earth and realizing we can’t even spell “attached” correctly. And since the craft is entirely subjective and—let’s be honest—doesn’t have any rules we can’t break, there’s no measurable validation we’re good at what we do. Not only that, but to write is to be rejected and edited, which means our egos are always taking a hit. That, my friends, is the life of a writer.

That is also why we need tools to remind us we’re not alone, that even the greats suffered insecurity and failure and rejection and writer’s block and lethargy, that what we do takes commitment and self-belief.


Synopsis: This movie follows two stories. 1) A writer researches orchids and writes a book. 2) A neurotic screenwriter struggles with insecurity as he adapts the orchid book for the big screen. And, uh, things get a little crazy for a movie about flowers.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HtZ2M4e_AM&w=560&h=315]

Live vicariously: Land a screenwriting job for a major motion picture; use a typewriter; explore even a boring topic in interesting and eloquent prose; have our books optioned.


  • “Screenwriting seminars are bullshit.”
  • “There are no rules, Donald. And anybody who says there are…those teachers are dangerous if your goal is to do something new.”
  • “The only idea more overused than serial killers is multiple personality [disorder].”
  • “Because I’m pathetic. Because I have no idea how to write. Because I can’t make flowers fascinating. Because I suck.”

Themes: writerly neurosis, movie options, project obsession, writer’s block, insecurity, low self-esteem, writer-agent relations, and deadlines.


Dear Montana Kaimin: A Letter from a Temperamental Columnist

“My rambling brat (in print) should mother call, / I cast thee by as one unfit for light, / The visage was so irksome in my sight.” — Anne Bradstreet, “The Author to Her Book”

Dear Montana Kaimin,

The other day, I sorted my portfolio and a certain stack of newspapers and remembered completing my undergrad at the University of Montana.

The worst part was definitely Spanish, in which I mainly learned charades and spent all-nighters memorizing las palabras and asking: 1) What the hell am I doing in life? and 2) Did I really just eat half this cake?

The best part, however, was working for you—and you, at least, answered that first question. I was a paid copyeditor for two years and also published twenty-three columns beneath a cartoon that made me look like a panda. Editors spent more time playing Nintendo than dropping stories in the slot, and occasionally a photographer would throw up in a garbage can before the paper went to print at midnight. I learned AP style, began building my portfolio, and heard terms like “pitch,” “copy,” and “slug” for the first time. We squeezed homework in between stories, and no one ever cleaned the microwave. It was the best part of my college experience.

But there was a catch.

My published columns were never exactly the columns I wrote—and I hated you for that. It could have been anything: a disrupted sentence structure, a rearranged paragraph, a misplaced semicolon. Goddamn you all! I’d protest the whole thing by refusing to bring home copies on pub day. I’d read it once, slam it on a bench, and tell it to think about what it had done wrong overnight.


Motivational Movies for Writers, Part Two

This second installment of movies for writers is as much of a mixed bag as Part One. Despite their different genres, however, the films all have common themes and tap into a basic truth about writers: We’re all weird as hell.

With deep condolences to Robin William’s family and all the children of the ’90s, I’m kicking off the list with one of the greatest motivational films for writers: Dead Poets Society, the movie in which I first learned about carpe diem, sucking the marrow out of life, nonconformity, and writers like Whitman, Thoreau, Tennyson, Shakespeare, and Frost. Here’s to you, Mr. Williams, “O Captain! My Captain.” You’re a striking example of how a body of work can inspire, entertain, and contribute cultural value—even after its artist goes gently into that good night: “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

Dead Poets Society

Synopsis: An English prep school instructor uses unconventional teaching methods and inspires his students to explore poetry and achieve their potential.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrBk780aOis&w=560&h=455]

Live vicariously: Inspire others to love poetry; join a writing and reading group of freethinkers; write poetry; take risks; be fearless.


  • “You will learn to think for yourselves again. You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
  • “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering—these are noble pursuits necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love—these are what we stay alive for.”
  • “Dead poets were dedicated to sucking the marrow out of life.”

Themes: poetry, poets, carpe diem, fearlessness, independent thinking, and barbaric yawping.

Finding Neverland

Synopsis: Author J.K. Barry meets the family to inspire Peter Pan.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0v3XCUiwAhc&w=560&h=315]

Live vicariously: Be famous; inspire creativity in others; be seized with inspiration; write.


  • “All great writers begin with a good leather binding and a respectable title.”
  • “Write about anything. Write about your family. Write about the talking whale.”
    “What whale?”
    “The one that’s trapped in your imagination and desperate to get out.”

Themes: critics, fame, imagination, creativity, and inspiration.