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Tech Tuesday: Automatic Backups with Scrivener 2.x

After my computer fiasco last week, I figured Scrivener’s automatic backup feature was a timely topic. The key here is that you need a place to store your backup files. I suggest something offsite like Dropbox (free), but you could use an external hard drive if you have one hooked to your network.

A few general notes:

— You can only choose one location for all of your files. I was maintaining my Scrivener files along with other project-related files in a hierarchy that matched the one on my Mac. With automatic backup you lose that.

— If you want to back up to two locations (something I highly recommend), you’ll have to do one of them manually. Or use another automated service like Time Machine, Carbonite, or CrashPlan.

— Automatic backup applies to all projects unless you specifically exclude them (see below).

— By default, Scrivener already performs an automatic backup when you close a file, but it saves to a location on your hard drive. No good if you do something stupid, like drop your computer on the tile floor at your kids’ swim practice. *ahem* Once you set up the back up as shown below, this default location is changed.

Changing Automatic Backup Preferences

  1. From the Scrivener menu, select Preferences. (Windows users go to Tools—>Options).
  2. Choose Backup.
  3. Make sure the box next to Turn on automatic backups is checked.
  4. I recommend you choose to Back up on project close. If you do it on open, you’ll risk losing the most recent changes. If you do it on every time you manually save, you might never get any work done (though I use this also because I don't close my projects very often).
  5. I strongly suggest choosing Compress automatic backups as zip files. Yes, it’s slower, but zipping the files makes for smoother Internet transfers, and helps protect the project from corruption.
  6. If you check to Use date in backup file names, Scrivener will include a date and time stamp. I have this turned on so I can quickly tell which file is most recent.
  7. Choose how many versions to keep before overwriting the oldest one. Up to you and how much space you have.
  8. Click the Choose… button and select your backup drive.

Exclude a Project From Automatic Backup

If a file is so large that it takes too long to back up, you can exclude it from automatic backup. But make sure you take care of it manually!

  1. Open the project you wish to exclude.
  2. Choose File—>Back Up—>Exclude From Automatic Backups.

Restoring a Project From a Backup File

  1. Find the backed up file in Finder or Windows Explorer.
    For automatically backed up files, the easiest way is to go to Scrivener—>Preferences (Tools—>Options in Windows), click on the Backup tab, and click Open Backup Folder. This will open a window in the folder where your backups are currently being stored.
    Manually backed up files have a .zip extension if you chose to compress them. If not, they’ll have a .scriv extension.Automatically backed up files are called (where # is the version number). The very first backup will not include a version number.
  2. To avoid losing the original backup file, right-click the file and choose Duplicate (Windows users choose Copy). A new version of it with the word “copy” inserted before the extension appears.
  3. 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.
  4. Double-click the backup file to unzip it. (Windows users: 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, Windows 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.
    Once the file finishes unzipping, you’ll have the backup version (.zip or, and the unzipped version of the file under the original project name (.scriv). (Windows Explorer opens a new window in the folder where you extracted the file.)
  5. Now you can open the .scriv file in Scrivener. (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 text.)

Now you just need to remember to close your projects at the end of the day (or use the manual save option). And don’t drop your laptop! Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

[Updated 7/20/17]

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  2. Marc


    I keep all my Scrivener files in dropbox on my Mac. That then automatically backups up online. It’s therefore both on my mac and safe in online storage that I can access anywhere.

    • Reply

      I’m glad to hear you’re backing up your Scrivener files (and hopefully your other important files as well). Dropbox is pretty handy, and online is good not only for easy access, but in case of a disaster at your home too.

      Thanks for stopping by. Happy writing!

  3. Reply

    Thanks! The automatic backups were one of my big problems with Scrivener — I couldn’t tell where they were going.

    Now, off to fix that!

    • Reply

      Dr. Mosbacker: I’m glad the post helped. I’m afraid I haven’t used Google Drive, but since it’s very similar to Dropbox, it should work in much the same way. Good luck!

  4. Reply

    Gwen, Have you ever experienced a loss (edits in my case) when moving from the Scrivenings view into Compose or vice versa? I’ve had this happen a couple times. My document takes several seconds to appear in Compose and what I had just done was gone. Today it looks like I lost weeks worth of work. I don’t understand it because I’ve been saving regularly on my Mac hard drive & in Dropbox. When I went into Finder and found the last save, it opened into the file with the lost changes. Probably because I closed out of the project to reopen it.

    • Reply

      Oh no, Larissa! I haven’t encountered that before. I’d definitely let tech support know what happened so they can try to recreate and fix it in the next update. Did you try restoring an older version of your backup? By default there should be five versions unless you changed it.

      You might want to make a copy of the project before you do any more work on it, that way if the tech support guys can do anything with it, you won’t have overwritten too much. Sorry I can’t be more help. 🙁

      • Reply

        Thanks Gwen. I appreciate you taking the time to answer. It’s done it to my twice in the last 2 weeks and looking back through the project, it looks like the last save it kept was Dec 15. The older versions I find all look the same as the one I keep pulling up. I’ll let tech support know. Thanks!

  5. Reply

    Hi Gwen. I’m pretty much a low-tech writer, but am thinking of trying Scrivener for Microsoft (Vista). Right now, at the end of the day, I save my work on the computer and on a flashdrive. I don’t have Dropbox or any other program like it. Is there a way to save to a flashdrive what I do on Scrivener each day, or would I cut and paste what I’ve written into a Word doc, then save it that way?

    • Reply

      Sandy: Yes. You can either set the backup location to be your flash drive (and then make sure it’s inserted when you close the project), or you could just close the Scrivener project and then copy it (the project file) from your hard drive to your flash drive in Windows Explorer.

      Good luck!

  6. Reply

    Hi Gwen,

    I came across your blog in a frantic search on how to recover my research notes. I recently bought a new laptop and had transferred my full Scrivener backup file to my flash drive then onto the new laptop. However, when I unzip the files to open in Scrivener I get either a “Data error” or “cannot open output file”. Have you encountered this problem before? Fortunately, I have my manuscript just not all my abundant pages of research notes! Any light you can shed will be helpful!

    • Reply

      Linda: Without seeing what you’re doing it’s hard, but here are a few thoughts. Are you unzipping the files and saving them to your new laptop before you try to open them in Scrivener? Instead of using backup files, have you tried copying the original to your flash drive (maybe uncompressed would help in this case) and then saving it to your new laptop (make sure the original isn’t open on the old laptop when you do this)?

      If those don’t help, I’d check out the L&L forum ( or contact tech support. They see a lot more problems than I do, and can ask better questions to get at the heart of your issue. Good luck!

      • Reply

        Thanks for the quick response, Gwen! Thankfully, I still have the old laptop and was able to re-install Scrivener. All my notes are there! The new problem I am having is with exporting the files, but I’m going to tinker around with it for a bit and see if I can’t fix that. If worse comes to worse, I’ll just do a ton of cut and paste. 🙂 Thanks again!

        • Reply

          What are you trying to export? Individual research documents? Honestly, I’d just copy the .scriv file to your flash drive without compressing (or do File–>Save As from the Scrivener project itself, saving to the flash drive), then you should be able to copy it to the new laptop.

          Otherwise, you can export by going to File–>Export–>Files. If you select a folder in the Binder first, Scrivener will export them all to a folder as individual documents.

  7. Reply

    I would like to add something. What I did with my scrivener projects. On my USB thumb drive. I created a folder called Scrivener Project Folder. In that folder I create another folder. M Folder and M Folder I. I copied and paste my entire scrivener project to there. Then repeat the process on to M folder I, after the work on my writing had been done. When I want to make a copy of my recent work, I create another folder. then pop it in there.
    I find it easier than copying and replacing my recent work. Of course the USB thumb drive I am using, is specifically used for that task. No other things are loaded in there.
    And you would have to be damn careful not to delete the wrong folder and be careful not to copy from the wrong folder.

  8. Reply

    I understand the automatic backup and how to point to a folder, but when I unzip a backed-up file, there’s not data, just a blank Scrivener screen. I have several files saved with nothing in them. Why would that happen?

    • Reply

      I believe something like this happened to me, and it had something to do with my having moved the project (.scrivx) file into a folder that didn’t have the rest of the unzipped files.

    • Reply

      Diana: Karen’s answer is a good one. Are you on Windows? If you only unzipped the .scrivx, you’re just getting the structure without its contents. You need to unzip the whole .scriv folder and keep the items from that folder together. I’d also recommend copying the backup and moving it to your writing folder before you unzip so you don’t have to worry about losing the original backup.

      Without seeing what you’re looking at–or knowing which version you’re using–it’s harder for me to get more specific.

  9. Reply

    Hi Gwen. Found your blog, then bought Scrivener for Dummies, and now I’m busily trying to learn everything (everything?? probably not) about Scrivener. I have Scrivener for Windows. I’m trying to find an answer to a backup related question: Is there a way to set the auto-save location? Not auto-backup, but auto-save. I’ve Googled everything I can think of, checked the Scrivener manual, Scrivener forums, and done a search for “auto-save” in your book — to no avail.

    If there’s no way to set an auto-save location, where or how do I find and use the auto-save files if I need to?

    There’s probably a setting or explanation I’m missing, but thanks for your help!

    Gary Speer

  10. Reply

    Gary: Auto-save doesn’t create a separate file, it just saves the one you’re working on. It’s the same as going to File–>Save while in a project. Does that make sense?

  11. Reply

    Ah, well. It sort of makes sense to me. I’ll have to think about it. What threw me off was a friend who uses Scrivener and uses Google Drive for backups. He made this comment to me in a private message at a forum: “I keep my Scrivener files in my Google Drive directory, with autosave and autobackup enabled. This means I’m backing up twice.” Since I like the idea of having a “double backup” and want to backup to 2 different locations, I got hung up on trying to do that. It never occurred to me that he might be wrong about his understanding of what auto-save and auto-backup do. So he’s actually just getting one usable backup?

    But I guess what I’m having trouble with, then, is this: Exactly what is the usefulness of auto-save? I’m probably just being unusually dense today. LOL!



    • Reply

      No problem, Gary. Auto-save means that changes you make to your project (e.g. typing text, applying a Label value, importing a research file, renaming a document) are saved. We’re just talking about saving your work in the original project file. So if the power goes out or your laptop battery dies, you won’t lose all of your hard work.

      A backup is a copy of the original (working) file. So, it’s a separate copy of your project that reflects everything you had done up until the backup was made. This is the file that should be saved somewhere different from the original project (like a flash drive, external drive, online drive), so that if your original is lost, destroyed, or goofed up by you somehow, you have a backup copy to provide you with a starting point. Backups are insurance against computer theft, fire, flood, and hard drive failure.

      So, the way I see it, your friend only has one backup. If you want two backups, you’ll have to have a second, manual process where you save the project file on a second drive. Or you need a backup service of some kind.

      I hope that’s more clear. Thanks for buying the book, and good luck getting Scrivener figured out. Happy writing!

      • Reply

        If one doesn’t have Scrivener set to re-open the last project (which I don’t, because it kept re-opening a much earlier version), how does one get to the auto-saved project if one loses power before doing a manual backup?

        • Reply

          Karen/Gary: Remember that the auto-saved project is just your regular project file. When you lose power, it’s no different than just closing the file yourself.

          The easiest way to access your project is from File–>Recent Projects. If you want to open a project you haven’t used recently, go to File–>Open.

          You can also locate the file on your computer’s file system (Finder on the Mac, Windows Explorer in Windows) and double-click to open it in Scrivener.

  12. Reply

    Thanks, Gwen. I also echo Karen’s question: How do you get to the auto-saved project if you lose power, hard drive trouble, etc.?


  13. David Hildebrand


    Hi Gwen,
    A question a bit different than above, but perhaps you can answer it. I’m taking on an administrative position and I’ve got a hierarchy of (mostly text) files related to that task. I’m thinking that Scrivener might be a good tool to use, especially if Scrivener has a parallel set of folders, at least at the top level.

    So, for example, ON MY HARD DRIVE: I have a master folder called Courses and Pedagogy and various subfolders beneath it. Meanwhile, IN MY SCRIVENER PROJECT: I’ve got folders with the same names and hierarchy.


    Ok, so far so good. Scrivener does an import for what it could. Very cool–it’s searchable now and easy to browse.

    Here’s my QUESTION: What happens when, for example, I get a new file on my hard drive that is not yet in Scrivener? Do I have to manually drop that new file into it’s appriate spot in Scrivener? Or, is it possible to “link” a Scrivener folder with one on my HD so that changes in the HD files system automatically result in an import of that file into its corresponding (“linked”) folder in Scrivener?

    Do you see my point? If Scrivener could link permanently with the associated file-hierarchy on my HD, then when ever I made a change (e.g. added or created a file in my HD) it would go ahead and change the Scrivener project associated with that hierarchy.

    What do you think? Is this doable?

    Many thanks for your thoughts.


    • Reply

      David: I love the idea, but I don’t know of a way to automate it like that. You might look at the sync options in the manual, but I don’t think it will work like what you’re looking for. So, yes, you’d have to manually drop in any new files.

      • David Hildebrand


        I really appreciate the reply. I’ve asked the question on the Scrivener forum, too, and if i get an answer, I’ll let you know. This kind of automatic updating (a la Dropbox, in a way) would be very useful.

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  16. anne selin


    Hi, Gwen. I’m traveling, so loaded up my scrivener project onto Google Drive. I’ve seen some troubleshooting for my problem–it turned the whole thing into scrivx and I can’t open it–but I have no idea what to do. The suggestions were to turn the scrivx doc back into a folder and investigate the contents, which I can’t do. Please help!

    • Reply

      Anne: I’m not sure how to fix the file you loaded on Google Drive. Are you working on a Mac or PC? The thing is that the SCRIVX document is just the file structure (essentially the Binder layout). The files are located in another subfolder of the original SCRIV file. On Windows this is all visible. On the Mac, it’s all buttoned up. On a Mac you can right-click (or Control+click) a SCRIV file and select Show Project Contents to see all the files and subfolders. It’s possible that if your SCRIVX is really a SCRIV in disguise that you could rename it to .scriv and then do the above.

      I’m hoping you have a backup copy though. If you’ve never made changes to the backup settings, it should have been created on your hard drive the last time you closed your project.

      Wish I could be more help.

  17. Dana Alanis


    Hi! I’m freaking out! I had 50,000 words of my novel in a folder and I was editing it and had “selected all” and tried to insert page numbers but it deleted my entire novel. I didn’t do a secondary backup system. I tried to recovery but it’s to versions before. I just don’t understand. How can I find this text?Can theGeek Squad get in there and find it? Years of work! I feel like I’m going to throw up or just want to die right now I am about to have a panic attack I’ve tried everyone’s suggestions and still nothing. Please, please help me!

    • Reply

      Oh no, Dana. If you haven’t done too much to the file, I would suggest trying Edit–>Undo a few times (if you haven’t already). That doesn’t work for everything, but it usually works for text-related functions.

      Are you just not finding your most recent backups? Or did you make too many changes since the last back up? If you’re not finding the most recent one, try going into the Backup settings and clicking on Open Backup Folder. That will take you to where they’re being saved now.

      I wish I had more to offer. When it comes to data recovery you’re probably better going to a geek squad . Good luck!

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  19. kevin lenihan


    Scrivener screw me again. I just can’t trust it anymore. It erases files.

    This happened to me under different circumstances on my last project. It erased my most recent file for no reason. About 5000 words. Gone. When I checked the back up folder, for some reason it had stopped making back up files just on that project.

    My compute is only 6 months old. Recently it began random shut downs. I suspect a problem with motherboard. But I should lose much work since it’s set to autosave every few minutes.

    That’s how it worked…until this afternoon. For some reason it took the file I was working on and blacked it. Just like before.

    So I went to the back ups. This time I had set to save on dropbox.

    Fail. It turns out to have been somewhat preventable. The default settings only create a back up when you properly shut down scrivener. I didn’t know that, and mine was shutting down when the computer crashed.

    None of this explains why the main file got deleted. Second time this has happened. I mean it took a saved file and deleted all the contents. I have several scenes written out for a screenplay whose deadline is Monday. All gone.

  20. Justin Lloyd-Jones


    Hello All,

    I am very new to, not just scrivener but also writing so don’t judge me please 🙂 After reading the above posts along with the choices I have made for myself when configuring Scrivener I thought I would share.

    So it seams this is the case for most of us:

    We know it is not good to have all your eggs in one basket.
    We all want the reassurance of knowing we can recover our documents in the event of a disaster.
    Some of us would like the convenience of our files being synchronised around several computers.

    I have worked with technology long enough to know there is never a guarantee that it will work as expected.
    I have also worked with technology long enough to not trust it as much as I love it and the benefits it can bring.

    I read the articles that advise about the limitations of the popular file sharing solutions. A la Dropbox and Google drive. Reports that they can corrupt your files in certain situations. This is probably true but more of a disclaimer as it most likely has happened to one more people in the past and I feel their pain .However, on the whole from my experience Google Drive seems to the job pretty well for me so far.
    Yes you could also back up to an external USB drive or USB stick. I am not personally a fan of USB backup because I have had those fail on me or get lost too so no one solution is perfect and the sooner we all accept this the happier we will be 🙂
    As Gwen mentions above we shouldn’t get ‘saving a document’ confused with the backup function. They are similar but different. The good thing about Scrivener is that it allows you to have these set to 2 different locations. Also promoted by Gwen , above. What I wouldn’t do therefore is backup and save to one location. Be it a cloud service like Dropbox or your local hard drive. This is just common sense.

    This is how my scrivener is configured then.
    My file save is configured to save to a folder on Google Drive. Don’t forget that although this is in the cloud it replicates to your desktop also so this in itself is a little like 2 backups. If one version of your document gets corrupt , yes it means that corruption will replicate to the cloud but it does protect you if say for example your laptop/mac/pc gets stolen or bursts into flames so this is a good start. (This works equally as well if you set your file saves to Dropbox).
    My Backups are set to backup to Dropbox. By using a different cloud service you protect yourself from a failure to one of those services. If one is unavailable then you can use the other. Again, your backup will be not only in the cloud but also on your laptop because Dropbox synchronises to both cloud and desktop.
    A very important thing to remember for any of you out there who have saved or backed up to the cloud and lost documents through corruption etc is that both these services use something that is known as version control. Without going into boring detail this means they keep a record of a saved file at various stages of its life. As an example I think that Dropbox keeps 30 days of changes. This means that if you accidentally delete the file or the file becomes corrupt today you can go back in time like a time machine to say for example. Yesterday afternoon.
    For those that like to backup to USB there is no harm doing this in addition. So when you have saved the document and closed scrivener you can then go to Windows explorer and copy your files to USB.

    Finally it is worth considering the pros and cons of these options. If you backup to USB only then the file will only be available locally so don’t keep the USB with your computer or you may lose both. Backing up to the cloud means you will need to make sure you have an Internet connection to perform your backup and file saves. This in itself is ok . You will still be able to work on your document without Internet as mentioned above, it is saved locally too. It just means that any changes you make wont backup till you get online. Also if you work without Internet it wont synchronise to another computer until you do. In this day and age that should not be for too long. Internet is everywhere.
    That’s it really. Good luck with your writing. Just don’t let technology ruin your enjoyment of it 🙂

    • Reply

      Hi, Justin! Welcome to Scrivener. 😉 That’s a great round up of information. I appreciate you sharing. One sticking point I have is with Google Drive. The guys at L&L do not recommend using Google Drive for your working file because it doesn’t handle the way Scrivener sends updates (lots of little files and bits of files) and is more likely to be corrupted. Dropbox is the only one they consider safe for working files.

      I’d recommend switching so that you use Dropbox for your working file and Google Drive for your backups. And make sure you’re choosing to zip the backups. Thanks!

      • Justin Lloyd-Jones


        Hi Gwen,

        Thank you very much. That makes perfect sense and not about to challenge the experts . Thanks for the info. I shall update my config accordingly.

        Thanks ms again.

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