3 easy ways to combat digital distraction and get down to writing.

digital_distraction_anne_mccoll Some people are able to sit at their desk all day with a bowl of M&Ms, welcoming their co-workers with a blast of sweetness.


I am not that person. Put a bowl of M&Ms in front of me and I will eat them all. If I want will power, I have to put the bowl of M&Ms in another room.


The same is true for the shiny lure of social media. I am on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and  Instagram for work. I am on social media for my business, but if I’m not careful, social media can be a great time suck. I have found a few apps that make it easier to limit my time on social media and get down to the business of writing.




This is a beautiful app that lets you turn off the Internet connection to your machine so you can be more productive. (Extremely useful if you are at work or a co-working space and can’t physically turn off the Internet.) You turn Freedom on and specify how long you’d like to focus and you get down to work. If for some reason you do need to get back online before your specified time is up, you can reboot your computer.



Now often, people say, “Wait, I need such and such a site open so I can do my work, or research.” If that’s the case, then you just need a little Self-Control. This handy dandy app lets you specify what web sites to block or to specify the only websites you’re able to access. Again, you can specify up to 24 hours which sites to block. SelfControl ups the ante, you can’t access your blacklisted sites until your time is up—even if you restart your computer.


Do you ever have moments where you go to a coffee shop or an empty conference room in your office and get an amazing amount of work done? Sometimes moving to a new physical location helps with your ability to focus. OmmWriter is like that. It’s a simple text editor with simple backgrounds and soothing sound effects that create a distraction-free environment that helps you focus on your writing at hand in a calm collected manner. OmmWriter isn’t a word processing program so it doesn’t have spell check and other tools. Its primary purpose is to help you get your thoughts down in a first draft. By far, one of the best things to happen in writing.

Happy writing!



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Facing the blank page: How to get started.


Is there anything more intimidating than an 8/1/2 x 11 piece of paper or a blank screen?

Yes there is. Writing about yourself or your company.

It. Can. Take. Forever. To complete the first paragraph. You’ll edit. And edit. And edit—and never make any progress.

So what do I do when I have an assignment and don't know how to begin? Start with the middle first. Or even the end.  I fill in the easy parts. Maybe it's the contact page information. Or the disclaimer part of a coupon (because everything has an expiration date.) But the important thing is to get the momentum started.

You might discover by the time you've flushed out most of your article or blog post, the beginning will become more obvious.

Happy writing!



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Some recent video work.

How to Sell on eBay.I wrote scripts and suggested some animation. emota produced.

The Whys of Social Media Social media made easy. I wrote the script and storyboard.Voiceover recorded in a bathroom after a glass or two of wine. With Fandom Marketing.

A New City The center of San Diego is shifting.

What does next look like? from Anne McColl on Vimeo.

The Science of Scheduling Nurse staffing made easy. I wrote the script and sketched rough storyboard. The folks at Jacob Tyler produced this.

Who's the Most Photographed Woman in the World? Shameless self-promotion. Started as a blog post but more fun as a video.

Summertime reading.


It’s summer time. And that means more time at the beach and the pool. After surfing or swimming, if I don’t feel like reading my paperback, I pick up my iPhone and catch up on emails from some of my favorite writers. These emails are like postcards from friends, insights on what they're writing or what they find interesting.


Austin Kleon

Every week he shares his favorite things around the web which may include a few of his drawings or black art poems.


Brain Pickings

If there is one person to follow on the Internet, it's Maria Popova's Brain Pickings. (I would never get anything done if I read everything Maria wrote.) This is weekly recap of the best of Maria’s amazing Brain Pickings. A catalogue of interestingness.


Ann Friedman

(Austin suggested her.) Ann is a journalist who loves the Internet and writes for a bunch of places like The New Republic, NewYorker.com, ELLE, The Guardian and Los Angeles magazine.Ann shares her writings and her favorite articles from around the web. And pie charts. And animated gifs.


Nicole Fenton

Nicole is a content strategist (And a surfer.) Her once-in-a-while missives talk about the writing life and her experiences in authoring her first book.


Why words + visuals rule.

It's funny. As a writer, I am often the biggest proponent of visuals in web content. Clients ususally pay attention to the homepage but then after that, sometimes visuals get forgotten. But when text and visuals are paired together, they create a stronger message.

And if you have a lot to say, nothing is more intimidating than an entire page of text. Visuals help break up text into chunckable pieces that are easier to retain. 



You bet.

Writing is design.

You really can't do one without the other.

Update: Original source for stats for infographic. But the 60,000 stat has been proven bogus. Apparently my sketchnote has travelled around the Internet.


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Happy creating!


Copy + Cocktails Vol. 1

Copy + Cocktails was a roaring success with quite a few freelance San Diego copywriters coming out. Some people I had met online before and not in person. We had a great time comparing notes, sharing comma trauma stories and swapping strategies. After putting in a long day, it's hard to get out and meet new people. But it is SO worth it. It really wasn't until I started freelancing and didn't have the built in consistancy of a creative department that I understood the value of building community. It's about meeting new people, encouraging serendipity and promoting the collision of new ideas.

There will definitely be a Vol. 2 in the not too distant future.


Copy + Cocktails: A gathering for copywriters

I was talking to a fellow copywriter on Twitter and we missed each other at the San Diego Ad Club's Mingle Bells for the the second year in a row. So I decided to organize a copywriter meetup and invite every writer I know that I've never met. Sometimes it gets lonely hanging with art directors and designers all the time as a freelance copywriter. copyandcocktailsposter

Copy + Cocktails Facebook group

Copy + Cocktails event

How a copywriter spends their time.

I presented to copywriting class at The Art Institute-San Diego and shared this slide (a creative way to emphasize the importance of planning and the creative brief.) WhatACopywriterDoes_1

Then I realized I was only focusing on the creative process. There is a lot else I do, I spend so little time actually writing. When you perform a craft for a living, there is a whole lot of business around the craft.


A digital detox in the desert.

Cosmos - Digital Landscape Painting Once you get outside of the city, the stars shine crazy bright.

I've been camping in the Anza-Borrego desert since I was 12 years old or so. Now that I have kids of my own who inherited my tiny bladder, I have to wake them up to go to the bathroom every night. (Definitely no fun when it's raining or 34 degrees outside.) But when when we open the tent flap and peer up, we are greeted by the most amazing spectacle of stars. At 2 am, all of the campfires have been put out and there are no lights to compete with the galaxies overhead.

One evening my son Robert asked me, "Mommy, are those stars there all the time?"

"Yes, they are," I answered. "We just turn on so many lights, we drown out the stars."

These days, a lot of people are detached from the night sky. We don't just hang out on the front porch like people did 50 years ago. With TV and air conditioning, we stay indoors. And we miss spectacular sights like this.

The desert has become a wonderful refuge, not just for its natural beauty, but for also what's not available. There’s no Internet connection and no phone reception. No YouTube, Hulu or TV to distract us. At night, we sit in chairs around the campfire and make s'mores. (I'm always the first to fall asleep.) And in the mornings, I read in the tent with the kids before venturing out for hot chocolate.

Isn’t it funny, I have to leave home to spend time with my kids?

It’s so easy to get distracted around the house. The laundry. The Internet. The bills. I’m looking forward to another desert trip over New Year's.

I hope between the hustle and bustle of the holidays, you have time to sit with your loved ones and do absolutely nothing together. Just take the phones and put them in a basket in another room, even if it’s for an hour after dinner.

May your holidays be merry. May they be bright. May they be unplugged.



P.S. How I remember the difference between desert and dessert. You only want one desert, that's one s. Who doesn't want two desserts? That's a double s.

Sketch your own blog visuals!

Okay, it’s official, the Pinterestification of the Internet is now complete. Every blog post must have an interesting visual that can be used as an icon to promote it on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and wherever else. So what do you do? Go to iStock and find that highly original target or light bulb like everyone else?


Instead, draw your own. And no, you don't have to be a designer or an artist. You can just be a regular blogger, writer, or copywriter.

Who me? Yes, you,  seriously. Grab a Sharpie. Draw on a stickie. Snap a shot. Upload. You’re done.

Here are two people who sketch their own visuals with style.

Shelly Bowen of Pybop.

pybop_responsive Shelly Bowen is the simply amazing principal of Pybop, a content strategy consultancy. Go ahead and take a look at the Pybop (which stands for Put Your Brains on Paper) blog page. See what a consistent look and feel they create. And Shelly spends $0 on visuals!

Amber Rae of  HeyAmberRae.com

HeyAmberRae Amber Rae is a one-woman powerhouse and CEO of the Bold Academy, an accelerator program that teaches would-be entrepreneurs and creatives how keep it real, take risks, and boldly pursue that which they feel called to do. Her Ambergrams capture her bold way of thinking and are often snapshots of her Moleskine musings. Her sketches were even used in a Fast Company profile.

It’s impressive how a diagram and just a few words can communicate so much.

Do you know anyone else who scribbles their blog post visuals? Let me know!



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The antidote to iStock: Your iPhone.

Nothing can bog down your blog post more than a boring, predictable visual. (Hello iStock.) So what is a blogger to do? Well, look no further than your iPhone. There are some amazing apps that make creating a visual fun and easy. Here are a few of my favorites. Over Over adds text to photos. You can select fonts, alignment, size and color all within the app. (No more layers in Photoshop.) annemccoll_copywriter

Take a picture. That's right. Don't be shy. Draw on notepad, a white board and post. anne_mccoll_content

Vine Vine is a new six-second video app.And it makes making stop motion animation easy! How could you use it? Pin up your products one by one?

Creativ-Tea: How to Brew Fresh Ideas

I gave a short presentation at the Hera Hub Writers Lounge on generating ideas. Really it was an exercise in trying out the new Haiku Deck app, which lets non-designers make cool Power Point presentations. Then I took the slides and turned them into a video. Yes, all copy AND design by a freelance copywriter. If I can do it, so can you. You can see both below.