One of modernity’s greatest benefits is the wealth of programs and applications at our disposal, both on phones and computers. No matter the profession there’s a hefty handful of applications contending for your attention and (sometimes) hard-earned money. Screenwriting is absolutely no different, so in this guide I will cut through all the fat and recommend the key free screenwriting tools that’ll boost every screenwriter’s productivity. While no tool is a substitute for dedication to the craft of screenwriting, with any luck they’ll be helping hand along the way.
Platform: browser, desktop & phone app
Every screenwriter needs to diligently take notes throughout the day. I guarantee you that if you don’t write a good idea down you’ll forget it eventually. Even if you’re not 100% sure if the note will be relevant, it’s still a good idea to write it down for review later.
So why not just use the integrated notes app on all smartphones? Because they’re not synchronized. If I quickly type something up on my Notes application on my iPhone I won’t be able to access that note on my Windows PC. Evernote doesn’t have this issue. If I’m logged in to my account on both my phone and PC, the notes will sync up making for a much easier user experience.
Synchronized note-taking is a surefire way to destroy writer’s block and up your productivity. If you come up with an idea while you’re doing your weekly shop, open up Evernote, jot the idea down, then when you get back home you can integrate the idea straight into the script with minimal fuss. You are also able to sort your notes, annotate them, implement pictures and videos, as well as easily sharing them from the app.
Platform: web browser, desktop, chrome extension & phone app
Price: free plan or premium starting at $3/month
One lesson I learned early was not to underestimate the power of a thought out to-do list. While it’s possible you can remember in your head everything you need to do in the day, if you’re anything like me you’ll inevitably forget something and kick yourself when you realize you’ve forgotten. Enter the Todoist.
Much like Evernote, Todoist is an application that syncs your to-do list across all your devices so you can have access it to it at all times. You can just type in tasks, or you can set them to different days and times, set to be recurring, or to be designated to specific segmented projects. The great strength of the app is its pure customizability while staying intuitive and simple. In other words, you can figure out how to make Todoist best amplify your individual writing method.
The psychological effect of clearing through a to-do list is powerful. If you set a recurring task to write three pages everyday, I guarantee you’ll feel more satisfied at the end when you get to tick it on the app. I know there’s many days where the simple idea of striking something from the to-do list has powered me through work and made me more productive.
Platform: web browser & desktop app, iPad app TBA
Price: free plan or pro plan at $49/year
Maybe the most obvious application of them all, you absolutely need to get some dedicated screenwriting software if you want to be able to produce professional looking scripts. Fiddling with formatting in a Word document or Google Doc is far more stressful than just having software that does the hard work for you.
Arc Studio Pro automatically formats your script to industry standard alongside a full suite of export options. It also has a bunch of features geared at boosting the user’s productivity. Its interface is purposefully sleek and intuitive as opposed to the noisiness of other software. This allows you to focus on what’s important, the writing.
Platform: web browser & mobile app
Watching a lot of movies is an inseparable part of being a screenwriter. Just watching a lot of movies is perfectly fine, but it’s often better to be able to log what movies you’ve seen and record your thoughts about it at the time. Letterboxd is a free app that’s the reigning king of the movie community.
It’s really a simple app. Made up of a formidable database of movies, Letterboxd allows you to tick off which movies you’ve watched, rate them, record your thoughts, add them to watchlists, view other people’s lists, and construct a diary of what movies you’ve watched. Your profile will tell you how many movies you’ve watched this year and break down each.
The watchlist function is incredible, mostly because you can see everyone else’s. Finding a horror aficionado’s list of the best horror films ever made can be a gold mine for inspiration if you’re writing a scary script. Similarly, it can help you discover lesser known gems. Logging all the movies you’ve seen also helps you recap what you’ve seen this year so that you can dissect what you liked/disliked about each movie you watched.
Platform: desktop & mobile app
Price: free plan or premium starting at $9/month.
Time-tracking is undoubtedly the cool kid on the block in productivity circles. The concept is really simple. When you begin working, you start a stopwatch in the app, then when you finish you stop it. This allows you to objectively see how long you truly spent working on a project and greatly aid your time management.
It’s popular for two-reasons. Firstly, it allows for intentionality, the idea of intentionally setting yourself to completing a task. This simple but effective psychological phenomenon increases productivity in the day-to-day work of daily life. Secondly, time-tracking allows the user to adjust how they’re spending their time. In my experience we’re all terrible at judging how much time we’re truly spending on work. Time-tracking removes any uncertainty.
The main thing is to not forget to track all your work. If you’re a hardcore user you can also track your leisure time too to get a complete picture. Those who are diligent will be rewarded with data that proves invaluable to boosting productivity, but if you’re forgetful you might find the reports to not be representative of reality. That being said, once you get in the habit of setting a timer when you start working it becomes hard to shake.
Platform: chrome extension & phone app
It’s easy to think about sitting down and writing, but it’s much harder to actually do it and even harder to make it into an unshakeable habit. This is where Flora comes in. This handy little mobile app asks you to plant a digital seed in the ground for a set period of time. If you navigate to anywhere on your phone but that app, the plant will die and you won’t get to see the seed sprout and contribute to an adorable digital garden.
This sounds silly, but it really works. As soon as I plant that seed I know I’m in screenwriting mode and I know that I won’t be able to procrastinate on my phone. It also kicks bad habits. Once I opened up my phone without even realizing it and my budding oak tree died in front of me. It was surprisingly sad and I’ve never done it since.
Additionally, if you want to up the stakes, you can offer to pay a fine if you open up your phone before the timer finishes which donates the money straight to forest preservation charities. I can’t recommend Flora enough.
Platform: web browser, desktop app & phone app
Price: free plan, premium starting at $9.99/year
Wait, Spotify? Doesn’t that count as a distraction?
Maybe, if you find music to be a detriment to work. However, it’s an indispensable part of my work and has proven to be an invaluable aid to focus. I literally never do any writing without something playing in my headphones. While I do pay for Spotify so that there are no ads, there is a very popular free version of Spotify that is feature complete with the exception of ads interspersed between the tracks.
What you actually listen to is up to personal preference. I am physically unable to write and listen to music with lyrics. I’m guessing because both involve my language my brain gets its wires crossed, so classical music, EDM, and movie OSTs are all on the cards for me. Sometimes I just put on ambient sound like the sounds of a garden or a rainy day.
For me tailoring my audio experience actually is a method of control. I cannot control the sounds around me, but if I put on my own music I can control exactly what I hear and when which is aided by some noise-cancelling headphones. This is especially useful if you live with others or have noisy flatmates. Tailoring your audio landscape can help you ease into the process of writing and thereby boost your productivity.
Everyone’s a little different when it comes to the applications they use to boost their productivity. However, for me, the apps I use are crucial to keeping my productivity at a high level. Test some of these apps, tailor them to suit your personal preferences, and watch your productivity skyrocket.