June 7th, 2019

Protect Your Writing with Scrivener Backups

by Gwen Hernandez

If you've ever dropped your laptop, spilled water on it, or had a hard drive fail—raising my hand to all of these—you probably understand the value of having your work backed up.

Scrivener does this automatically for you, every time you close a project, but it's a good idea to give it a little more thought. For example, if your working project and its backup copy are both on your hard drive, the backup won't help you if your laptop goes up in flames or down into the pool.

However you choose to protect your writing (and other files), here's how to set things up in Scrivener.

Saving vs. Backing Up

I've encountered a lot of confusion over the difference between saving and backing up a file. In case you're unclear on the concepts, here's my attempt to explain.

Think of your working project file (the one you write in every day) like a piece of paper that you're writing on with a pencil. You can erase words and add new words, but all of those changes are saved onto that same piece of paper. (Scrivener saves your changes every two seconds that you're not typing or moving your mouse.) Every day when you sit down to write, you pull out that piece of paper and get to work.

If you were worried about your piece of paper getting eaten by the dog, blowing into the burning fireplace, or flying out the window, you might want a backup copy, just in case. In the analog world, you could make a photocopy of your piece of paper at the end of each day, and mail it to a friend or put it in a fireproof safe. This is equivalent to your backup copy in Scrivener. You'll probably never need it; it's just there in case something happens to your original.

Deciding Where to Save Your Backup Files

Now that we understand what backup files are, let's talk about where to keep them. It's best to store your Scrivener backups on a different drive from your working projects so that if something happens to one drive, the other is still safe.

If your working project file is on your hard drive, backup options include thumb drives, external hard drives, Dropbox, or other online storage such as iCloud.

NOTE: Cloud services other than Dropbox are not recommended for your working project because they don't handle Scrivener's file structure well. If your Desktop or Documents folder is linked to iCloud, you might want to keep working projects elsewhere. Any online storage service is fine for your backups, as long as they are compressed/zipped.

Understanding the Backup Settings in Scrivener

To view or adjust the Scrivener backup settings (applies to all projects on the computer), go to Scrivener>Preferences>Backup (Mac) or Tools>Options>Backup (PC).

The the box next to "Turn on automatic backups" should be checked. If not, automatic backups won't happen.

Deciding When to Perform a Backup

Your options for when the backup is created include on open, close, manual save (i.e., File>Save, which you rarely need to do since Scrivener auto-saves, as mentioned earlier), and before syncing with mobile devices.

"Back up on project close" is the most important one. It'll trigger a backup anytime you close your project or Scrivener.

The other choices are optional depending on your workflow.

Compressing the Backup Files

I strongly suggest choosing "Compress automatic backups as zip files." Yes, it's a bit slower, but zipping the files makes for smoother Internet transfers, and helps protect the backup project from corruption.

Choosing To Date or Not to Date

I also recommend you turn on "Use date in backup file names." This will insert a date and time stamp into the file name. If you ever need to open a backup file, the date makes it easier to find the one you want.

Deciding How Many Backup Copies to Keep

Your choice of how many copies you retain depends on how frequently you're backing up and how much space you have on the backup location.

Five copies is usually plenty, but if you open and close Scrivener multiple times a day, you may want more so you have several days' worth of backups.

Changing the Backup Location

To change the backup location, open the Backup settings window (as in Step 1 above) and click Choose.

Select the location where you'd like backups for all of your Scrivener projects to be saved. This must be a drive accessible via your computer. If you want to designate a flash drive or other external drive, it must be plugged in.

IMPORTANT: To avoid cross-contamination between file versions, Scrivener backups and working projects should never be saved in the same folder. If you do this, you'll get an error when you open your project file in Scrivener.

Recovering a Project from a Backup Copy

If you lose a project file to corruption, natural disaster, or user error, you can recover most of your work from a backup. Here's how.

1. The easiest way to find the backup file you need is to go to Scrivener>Preferences>Backup (Mac) or Tools>Options>Backup (PC), and click Open Backup Folder. This will open a window directly to the folder where your backups are currently being stored.

2. Backup files are called FileName.bak#.zip (where # is the version number or the date/time stamp), and will include the date/time stamp if you chose that optio. NOTE: The version numbers rotate from 1-5, so 5 may not always be the most recent (which is why I recommend date stamps). The very first backup file for a project will not include a version number.

3. To avoid losing the original backup file, right-click the file and choose Duplicate (Mac) or Copy (PC). A new version of the file with the word "copy" inserted at the end of the file name appears.

4. Move the copy to the folder where you keep your writing files. This will ensure you don't accidentally start working in the backup folder, which can cause problems with the other backup files. If you're restoring the file because the original was damaged (or you had made changes you can't undo), rename the original to something like OLD_filename.scriv to avoid confusion. (Windows users, be sure to rename the .scriv folder, not just the .scrivx file inside it.)

5. Mac users can double-click the backup file to unzip it. Depending on the size of the file and the speed of your computer, this might take several minutes.

6. Windows users can right-click and choose Extract All. In the Extract window, click in the text box and remove "filename.bak#" from the folder to extract to. If you don't do this, File Explorer saves the file within another folder inside your writing folder. Click Extract. Depending on the size of the file and the speed of your computer, this might take several minutes.

7. Once the file finishes unzipping, you'll have the backup version (.zip or .bak.zip), and the unzipped version of the file under the original project name (.scriv).

8. Now you can open the .scriv file in Scrivener and get back to work. (Windows users: Do not remove the .scrivx file from the .scriv folder. You need everything in the .scriv folder to stay together or you'll end up with your project structure and no content.)

What backup or other Scrivener questions do you have?

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About Gwen

Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For Dummies and helps authors all over the world find the joy in Scrivener through her online courses, in-person workshops, and private training. She also writes romantic suspense (Men of Steele series).   In her spare time she likes to travel, read, jog, flail on a yoga mat, and explore southern California, where she currently lives with her husband and a lazy golden retriever. You can find more information about Gwen at http://gwenhernandez.com/.

9 responses to “Protect Your Writing with Scrivener Backups”

  1. LauraDrake says:

    Dropbox! *headslap* why didn't I think of that?! Thank you, Gwen!

  2. Laurie Evans says:

    Thanks so much! Saving.

  3. dholcomb1 says:

    I don't use Scrivener, but I do use Dropbox.


  4. Julie Glover says:

    I love your clear explanations! Thanks so much for walking us through this important feature, Gwen.

  5. abconeauthor says:

    This is definitely a keeper. Question: I'm trying to do what you suggested in number 3, making duplicates of my back-ups, but what if one of your novels have not made a back-up copy yet. Let me explain. This novel is going to replace the first one that I had started and was not satisfied with it so started again, using some of the scenes from the first novel. But don't know if that's the reason.

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