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14 Jul 2013

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, short articles or full-length books, casual or academic, Scrivener is easily the best tool on the market. It’s simple to get started with, smartly-designed, and extremely robust. I use it for everything: outlining and drafting, short stories and novels, even articles for this website.

Since I’ve recently made a career transition whereby I’m now making my living with my writing, it’s become important to ensure the data security of that writing. And there’s a simple trick with Scrivener that makes this process painless, invisible, and foolproof.

First, get a free Dropbox account if you don’t already have one. You’ll get 2GB of web storage, which is more than enough for many, many backups of your Scrivener project.

Now, if you already know your way around Scrivener and you’re thinking, “Oh, we’re just going to set up Dropbox sync?” then you’d be mistaken. While you *can *do that, I don’t find it an effective backup mechanism: it’s really just for working on your project from more than one location. You’re only syncing a single copy of your project, so if something catastrophic happens (like the permanent loss of half your draft, say) you’re hosed: there’s nothing to roll back to.

No, what we’re going to do will back up many versions of your project, so you can easily roll the whole thing back to any point in time you want, whenever you want. If you just lost half your draft today, you can simply restore yesterday’s version of the project and you’re good to go.

Okay, so you’ve got a Dropbox account. Now launch Scrivener and open the Preferences window. (I use a Mac, so it’s Scrivener -> Preferences. On Windows, it’s Tools -> Options.) Click over to the Backup tab, and you should see something like this:

scrivener-backupsHere’s what you’re setting:

  • Turn on automatic backups and Backup on on project close: Together, these will create a backup of your entire Scrivener project every time you close it (or quit Scrivener). That means you’re getting a backup version at the end of every single writing session.
  • Compress automatic backups as zip files: This is important, because it makes sure each backup is a single file (a .zip) instead of a folder containing many files (which is how Scrivener projects are normally stored). This will keep your Dropbox folder clean and avoids the possibility of errors or file corruption to part of a backup. It also makes the upload faster. ;)
  • Use date in backup file names: You’d think the operating system file date would be fine, but if the file is ever “touched” — renamed, for example — the file date will change to show when that happened. By writing the current date into the file name itself, you’ll always know exactly when a given backup was made, so you can roll back to exactly the date you want to.
  • Only keep X most recent backups: While this might seem like a valid space-saver, I actually keep this unchecked so I have the option to revert to much older backups — weeks or even months old — if necessary.
  • Backup location: This is the key to this whole method! Simply set your backup location to your local Dropbox folder (or a subfolder within it).

Now, every time you close your project (or quit Scrivener) a current copy of the project will be zipped and uploaded to your Dropbox folder automatically. You don’t even have to think about it!

And if disaster strikes, all you need to do is go to your Dropbox folder, find the version of the project you want to restore to, unzip it somewhere, and open it in Scrivener. Et voila, you’re back in business!

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