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Every one of these options is better than a napkin.
Writing is a terrible job, and if you’re considering it a viable career path, you’re making a huge mistake. Just kidding. Writing is the best! Unlike wanting to be a photographer or audio engineer or some other job that requires expensive equipment, the cost of entry is very low for writers. You just need a place to put your words. Didn’t J.K. Rowling write the first Harry Potter on a napkin or something? You basically just need a napkin. You’ll also need good ideas at some point, but don’t worry about that quite yet.
So don’t be fooled by “must have” writing programs like Final Draft or Scribner, both which are great but also expensive. There are plenty of fantastic freeware options out there that will get the job done just as well. They’re all better than napkins, anyway.
Features: Basic, industry-standard screenwriting software for that movie/TV/webseries script you’ve been kicking around for so long. If you want to pay for more—like storyboarding, index cards, and schedule sheets—you can, but if you’re only looking to write a script, the free version is perfect. Plus you can write on your phone or tablet with the mobile app, which is actually kind of better than writing on your computer because it’s much harder to suddenly find yourself with a browser and 17 tabs open.
Why you should get it: Do you want to write a script? Well, here you go.
How do I get it? Sign up on the Celtx website. You get the full tools on a 15-day free trial, but don’t worry: After that little tease, you’re back to the basic program, which is all you need.
Features: You can collaborate on a script with your friends in real-time. It’s Web-based, but there is a downloadable version, and both the browser and the downloadable version work offline. Next to the ease of working with multiple people on the same project at the same time, the best feature is the continual auto-saving and the line-by-line rewind, making it super easy to keep track of changes and find things you wrote, then deleted, but now want back. There are additional features available for money, including books on screenwriting and how-to classes, but the free version is wonderful on its own.
Why you should get it: Do you want to write a script with someone else? Well, here both of you go.
How do I get it? Sign up with WriterDuet.
Features: Trelby is a screenwriting software developed collaboratively by a group of volunteers who just want to make a great product. It’s simple, fast, and flexible; if you have the inclination to futz with the programming, you have easy access to do so. Otherwise, it’s a straight-down-the-middle screenwriting program with the basic formats and expected features. It works nicely, and it looks very simple and clean.
Why you should get it: If you want to customize your screenwriting experience very specifically for how you want it, you should get involved with Trelby.
How do I get it? Download here.
Writer, the Internet Typewriter
Features: It’s very no-frills, and that’s the point. It is described as a “fast and distraction-free fullscreen writing environment,” and it feels like you’re writing a manuscript on an old IBM machine, with the green text against a black screen coupled with the typewriter sounds (both of which you can turn off if you don’t find it charming). Did you know George R. R. Martin still writes only in DOS to stave off distractions? Hey, you could be like George R. R. Martin, except you’ll actually finish The Winds of Winter or your equivalent.
There are actually a fair number of very good features that are very helpful in subtle ways: It saves automatically as you write, everything is backed up in your account online, it includes a word-counter and writing goals, and it also works offline. If you upgrade to the Pro version, you get additional features like being able to upload to Google Drive and Evernote or create downloadable ebooks.
Why you should get it: If you want something simple and old-school, this is for you.
How do I get it? Create an account at Big Huge Labs.
Features: It’s essentially a better version of Microsoft Office with more functionality. For the purposes of writing, it’s an excellent word processor and very customizable. It’s as no-frills as you want it to be, but there are plenty of add-ons that can be helpful too, like a thesaurus and a rhyme-finder. I also like the Explore button, which keeps the endless resources of Google within easy reach without having to exit your tab. It’s also nice to work within Google Docs offline or on the mobile app to keep you extra focused without the distractions of the internet.
Why you should get it: You probably already have it. If you aren’t using it, give it a try.
How do I get it? If you have a Google account, all you need to do is sign in at the Google Docs landing page and get going.
Grant Pardee is a writer and producer specializing in digital video, social media, and web culture reporting. He has produced videos for Fullscreen, SourceFed, and Funny or Die, and his work has been published by Vice, McSweeney's, and Rooster Teeth.