Lisa writes: I am deep into writing my first spec, and everything is going pretty well - but I am using Word and I seem to be wasting hours upon hours on something that seems fairly simple: the formatting. I am not sure how paid writers write their shows every week, but I am assuming they use something like the Final Draft software (which I cannot afford). Do all the pros use screenwriting software? How do you format your specs?
I understand your frustration! Formatting is tough and it takes a while to master. Make sure you are READING as many professional scripts as you can - both so that you have templates to look at and also so that the right "look" of a script starts to sink in. There are a few links to script sites on the right of this blog, and I know that Google searches yield many more. Just make sure you're looking at real scripts and not transcripts.
All the pros definitely use screenwriting software. A John August poll found that 75.2% of screenwriters surveyed use Final Draft, which I also use. This program automatically formats a lot of things that would take FOREVER on Word. I know that the $249 pricetag ($180.99 on Amazon) is steep for aspiring writers, but I think it's a worthy investment in your future career. Every professional needs tools for his or her trade, and this is a tool we need for ours. Also, agents/producers/execs/readers/etc will likely be able to tell that your script has been written with Word and not with screenwriting software, even if you spend a long time perfecting your spacing and such. They won't necessarily write off your script as bad, but they might see it as a little amateur - especially since the formatting details are so hard to get right in Word.
When I was in college, my school's bookstore offered a student discount for Final Draft - so check yours to see if that's an option. You can also search for online deals: the Writers Store offers academic versions of Final Draft for as low as $129.
Another John August post on screenwriting software mentions Movie Magic Screenwriter 6 (which ranges from $99.95-$169.95) and Scriptware, so you may want to look into those too.
Celtx is a free screenwriting program. I have never used it, and friends have given mixed reviews, but I think it would be a much better option than Word.
I also really like Christopher Riley's book The Hollywood Standard for learning about montages and intercuts and figuring out unusual formatting dilemmas...you know, like intercutting a montage of flashback testimonials that happen offscreen.