The L&L Blog  /  Scrivener

The Low Down on Backing Up

Rebeca writes of the day when she accidentally wiped out her operating system and lost all her work.

Last fall when High Sierra was ready for prime time, I eagerly downloaded it but the installation stalled. So I did what you should never do—I turned off my laptop and restarted. It shouldn’t come to any surprise to tech-savvy readers that I managed to wipe out my entire operating system. 

Off I went to my local Apple dealer with my laptop and my external hard drive. When I arrived, I whimpered to the two technicians at the counter, “I think I broke it,” and explained what happened.

They looked at each other and snickered. 

“You didn’t break it,” said the taller, older guy. 

“We see a lot of this. People get impatient. It was rewriting files and it takes time,” the younger one chimed in.

Later when I returned, the younger technician commented, “You’re last backup was at 9:30 this morning.You’re smart because we see a lot of people who don’t backup.”

I thanked my lucky stars that one of the first things I learned when I first started using Scrivener was where I could find my backups and to also back up to an external hard drive.  

In case something like this ever happens to you, let’s review how and where Scrivener backs up your projects. (Note: This post refers to Scrivener 3 for Mac and Scrivener for Windows

All my projects are in Scrivener 3 so when I start a new one, my preference is to save it onto my desktop for easy access. If you’re new to the application (or simply didn’t know), Scrivener has the capability, by default, to automatically save your work after two seconds of inactivity. You can actually monitor this process on both Scrivener 3 and Scrivener for Windows. On Scrivener 3, take a peek at the 'traffic lights" found on the upper left-hand corner of the window. The red button will have a black dot inside it whenever the project contains pending edits. While on Scrivener for Windows, an asterisk appears next to the project title on the upper left-hand corner of that window. When you stop typing or clicking within the project that black dot (or asterisk) will disappear, and now everything is saved to the disk. If you want to adjust this setting for Scrivener 3, go to Scrivener->Preferences->General and select Saving. 



In Scrivener for Windows, you can adjust the setting by going to Tools->Options->General.



Keep in mind if you change the setting, for example, to 60 seconds and obsessively type for hours without a break, your work will go unsaved if you don't stop (although I doubt one would keep typing for hours and not bother to refill their coffee, take a bathroom break, or walk the dog). My advice: don't fiddle with the setting. 

A question that’s often asked is how does Scrivener store backups? I recommend you become familiar with the backup panel found in Preferences on the Mac (Scrivener->Preferences->Backup)  It offers a number of options that allow you to back up on opening, closing, on each manual save, before syncing with mobile devices. Here, you can select another backup location instead of the default. To view the backups of your work, click on “Open backup folder…” A window in the finder will open to where they are stored.



Window users can also change the location by going to Tools->Options->Backup. The same options are available: 


A few items to keep in mind: 

1. Never save the master project and your backups in the same folder. By default, Scrivener keeps the five most recent backups of any project to avoid wasting hard disk space. Each time an automatic backup is made, the oldest automatic backup for the project is deleted. If you work on a project inside the backup folder, the project name clashes with the name of an automatic backup, making it potentially possible that Scrivener will attempt to delete the live project, or other conflicts might occur. To change the location, go to the backup pane (see above for both Scrivener 3 and Scrivener for Windows) and select a new location that's separate from the master project. 

2. Become familiar with the very comprehensive Scrivener user manual. For in-depth explanations about saving and backing up go to Chapter 5 "All About Projects" and read "Backing up Your Work: section in the Scrivener Manual for Mac. For Scrivener for Windows go to Chapter 6 "Project Management" and read the subsection on "Saving and Making Copies." You can find and download these manuals on Literature and Latte's Learn and Support Page, or on Scrivener via Help->Scrivener Manual. 

3. Always backup your work with an external hard drive. I keep mine plugged in all the time.

4. When in doubt, visit the Scrivener community. The forums are moderated by the Literature and Latte team and there are thousands of users who can answer questions. You can also visit Scrivener’s own Facebook page and you can follow @ScrivenerApp on Twitter. And, of course, you can go to Literature and Latte to contact the team directly.

5. There are a number of Google+ and Facebook groups that are Scrivener specific with thousands of users who breathe, eat, and drink Scrivener. On Facebook these include Scrivener Users!, and Scrivener Mac Heads. On Google+ you can join the Scrivener Users community



PJ  /  15 JUNE 2018

Good article on backups. Thanks. For those who keep their SCRIV files on Dropbox, you will know that Dropbox maintains backups as well. If you are on the Dropbox Basic or Plus plan, Dropbox keeps backups for 30 days. In my experience, however, it's not so straight-forward to recover SCRIV files from Dropbox. Due to the "package" file architecture that Scrivener uses, it's easier to recover from a local backup as Rebeca says.

For Mac users, I have recovered SCRIV projects from a Time Machine backup on several occasions - that works great too!


EmP  /  15 NOVEMBER 2018

Hi, You don't mention backing up onto iCloud like I would normally do. Is that because you don't recommend it? Thanks.


StevenASmith  /  04 DECEMBER 2018

I think you forgot "Google how to Backup Scrivener" as a tip. Yes, become familiar with the "very extensive" Scrivener Manual serves as incredibly valuable, time saving advice, I'm pretty sure you could add "Learn every word in the English Dictionary, preferably its origins" to that little nugget.

Oh, and by constantly having your backup hard-drive attached to your computer, you could also Print out a copy of your work every single day, just to make sure.

And by Join Scrivener Communities online, as a tip for backing up your Scrivener work, I completely see how that relates to backing up, and only wish I did that *before* I lost all my work.

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