by Angela Guess
Products and services that claim to make you a better writer abound on the internet. Everyone claims to be a script guru, to have the course or the book or the contest or the software that will take you to the next level. And inevitably most of these products and services turn out to be a lot of crap.
WriterDuet is an online collaborative screenwriting program that lets writing teams outline, chat, and write together in real-time over the internet. It’s essentially free screenwriting software that can be used by multiple people to edit the same document at once. You can upload a scene or a whole script into the program, and when you’re done working on it with your partner or writing team (wherever they may be), you can export the file in Final Draft or PDF format.
WriterDuet’s online service is up and running now, and you can use it for free. But the service’s founder, Guy Goldstein, wants to take his program one step further by offering a new pay version of WriterDuet that can be utilized offline.
I recently chatted with Guy about his online app, the joys and perils of fundraising through Kickstarter, and why WriterDuet is a great tool for solo writers as well as teams.
LA Screenwriter (LA): Why did you create WriterDuet.com? What was the problem you were trying to solve?
Guy Goldstein (GG): Writing scripts with a partner is extremely common, but there was no good way to work together simultaneously. Other “collaborative” screenwriting programs either didn’t work, were limited, or worst of all, could easily lose your changes. No program made collaborative screenwriting easy and seamless, where everything just worked the way it should. That was the original goal of WriterDuet.
LA: What makes WriterDuet a better option than other document sharing methods like email or Google Docs?
GG: E-mailing scripts is an extra step, and you have to wait to see your partner’s work, plus merge changes if you both edited between e-mail exchanges. Google Docs is good for collaborative free-form writing, but it doesn’t have proper formatting and other tools screenwriters need to be effective. WriterDuet makes it astronomically simpler to co-write a screenplay that has industry-standard formatting and page counts, plus is compatible with many other screenwriting programs (we import/export Final Draft, Celtx, Fountain, and PDF files).
LA: Your website points out that WriterDuet is great for solo writers as well as duos and writing teams. What features can solo writers benefit from on WriterDuet?
GG: WriterDuet’s interface is extremely simple and intuitive for both new and experienced screenwriters, and the writing experience is smoother than many other screenwriting programs. Unlike other free programs I’ve used, WriterDuet’s margins, page counts, and font look professional and essentially match industry-standard programs, plus you don’t get different page counts while editing versus saving as a PDF (that bugs me). The file compatibility means you’re never locked into WriterDuet, and can easily share your scripts with people using other programs.
We instantly save all changes, and advanced revision tracking lets you see the complete history of your script by line, day, or tagged revision without ever saving backup copies. We offer full-screen writing, specific-scene editing, dictation, grammar checking (word errors, not just spelling!), editable dual dialogue, a plethora of keyboard shortcuts, and much more.
LA: What are some ways that writing partners can utilize the features of WriterDuet.com?
GG: Any number of people can outline, chat via text or video (only two people per conversation for video), add notes, and write together simultaneously, instantly seeing all changes. When you come back to a script, edits made since last time are highlighted. You can jump to the same position of your writing partners and even edit the same line simultaneously, or work on different parts of the script. Whether you work in the same room or across the world, WriterDuet takes all the technical hassle out of collaboration — though you still may fight about the script.
LA: You’re raising funds through Kickstarter (so hot right now) to build a WriterDuet desktop application that will be available for purchase. What will the pay version have that isn’t currently available through your free online service?
GG: I’ve tried raising money to build a desktop version of WriterDuet, which would feature offline writing as well as save files directly to your hard drive and other special features. However, that hasn’t received much traction, so unless it magically gets funded, my plan is to instead add “pro” features to the web app. I intend to keep the core writing functionality free, but have an inexpensive “pro” option that allows offline writing on the website (via browser caching), plus production features and other advanced stuff.
My goal is to give everyone an exceptional writing experience for free, and let those who can afford it pay a small amount for bonus features. This is a passion project for me, not a get rich quick scheme.
LA: Do you use WriterDuet in your own writing?
GG: Absolutely! I’ve collaborated a little bit, and I use WriterDuet for personal writing projects. Unfortunately (or fortunately), developing WriterDuet has taken over my life, so I have very limited time to write. But I do have a few active screenplays, and I claim that writing them is “product testing” so my boss (a wonderful dog named Jack) lets me get away with it.
LA: Your website says that you’re open to suggestions for new features. Have you gotten any good suggestions that you’ve taken yet?
GG: Oh man, this is what gets me excited. I estimate over half of WriterDuet’s non-essential functionality has come from writer requests. Outlining, change/revision tracking, scene numbers, headers and footers, specific scene editing, movable scenes, notes lists, and TONS of minor but awesome features have been prompted and improved by writer suggestions. I want WriterDuet to be perfect for as many people as possible, and amazing for everyone else.
I’ve probably implemented over 90% of the feature requests, and the simple ones are usually available the next morning (seriously). I have a few big ones on my to-do list, which I plan to tackle within the next couple months. The only features I won’t implement are those that would overcomplicate the user experience and/or code. Simplicity is why people who’ve never written a screenplay before can do it immediately on WriterDuet, and why I can roll out new features on an almost daily basis.
So if you try WriterDuet, please let me know what you think! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and I try to reply ASAP.