Got a backup?

Every so often, someone will email our support queue because they have lost a significant amount of work to some disaster or another. Sometimes the disaster is Scrivener-related, sometimes it isn’t, but our first question is always the same.

Do you have a backup?

Sadly, depressingly often, the answer is no. And in those situations, sadly, there really isn’t much we can do to help. This post is a public service announcement inspired by one such situation.

Scrivener’s automatic backups are a good start. The Scrivener -> Preferences -> Backups pane has the relevant options, and this is a good time to make sure they match the way you work. If, for example, you tend to leave a project open for days at a time, “Backup on project close” probably won’t offer much protection.

However. Scrivener’s automatic backups are the beginning, not the end, of a good backup strategy. Something that corrupts the live project can corrupt the backups, too, and will continue to do so until you discover the error. And of course backups on the local hard disk are vulnerable to theft, physical failure of the disk, and so on.

Dropbox is useful, but it is intended to be a synchronization service, not a backup service. Damage to one copy of the project can propagate to all of the synchronized copies. In one case, a user forgot to de-authorize his work computer when he changed jobs. When his former employer wiped the hard disk, they wiped out both the “cloud” copy and his own local copy of his work. Dropbox by itself is not a secure backup strategy.

So what is?

First and foremost, if you have a Mac you should be running Time Machine. It comes with every copy of OS X, it’s easy to set up and use, and it works. There’s simply no excuse for not using it.

Second, any data that you absolutely can’t afford to lose – financial records, your thesis, your novel – should be backed up offsite. Once upon a time, that meant keeping a stack of floppy disks in a safe deposit box. Now, there are a variety of offsite backup solutions. As noted above, the list does NOT include Dropbox. Rather, a good solution should work like Time Machine: automatically keeps a static archive going back as far as your disk space allows, preferably encrypted and password protected to prevent accidental or malicious deletions. Restoring data should be a deliberate act, requiring active user intervention, not something that happens automatically in the background. (This is the key difference between synchronization and backup.)

In addition to these automatic backups, it’s a good idea to take a separate backup to an external hard disk before making major system changes, such as hardware or operating system upgrades. If you don’t know how to do this, please learn before you even consider participating in ANY beta software program, including ours, but especially OS X betas.

Yes, this is a long list. No, it is not exhaustive. But all of these steps are easy to take, inexpensive, and will dramatically increase the security of your data. As well as dramatically decreasing the likelihood of depressing conversations with our support team.

Thank you for your attention,


1 Like

Bumping due to a conversation with a user who didn’t do this. Sigh… – Katherine

Good points.

I use Time Machine, Dropbox, and Scrivener zip backups.
I could also do a daily clone of the entire system via Carbon Copy Cloner (though I don’t) as TM doesn’t back up your System.

I’m of the opinion you can’t have too many backups, but the 3 I use run automatically so I don’t need to intervene.

A good backup is merely a theoretical nicety…
…until you need it.

Hi everyone. I just started writing my book and not being familiar with Scrivner, accidentally deleted my introduction. I have automatic backups turned on, but all the backups have none of my writing.

And with automatic backup you mean the backup you set in Scrivener Preferences, the rightmost pane Backup, and where you have ticked the box for ‘Turn on automatic backups’ and ‘Back up on project close’, and you do close the project when you are done writing, or ‘Back up with each manual save’ and every so often do a manual save?

Do you have other backups, such as Time Machine ™ where your introduction might be?

Hey guys, Thank you for your replies. Yes, automatic backup was enabled in Scrivener. Because of this, I didn’t do time machine. I’ve looked again and again and unfortunately, every copy is blank.

You should ALWAYS use backup software of your entire computer. Scrivener automatic backups usually exist on the same drive as your project - then what would happen if your drive failed (or “when” as many would have it)? Time Machine, and / or cloning to a separate drive, and / or using cloud backups, means that you can retrieve your entire computer’s contents.

Scrivener backups only do that - your Scrivener projects - in case the actual project fails or the software fails in some way. They don’t protect anything else.

Sorry about your vanished introduction - I don’t know what to suggest.

To Save Scrivener files:
Customize Toolbar to include the following buttons: Backup To, and Backup Now. For paranoids.
Under Preferences, Backup, choose the option that suits you additionally.
Your backups are located in User - Library - Application Support - Scrivener - Backups

To Save Computer:
Time Machine, and/or Carbon Copy Cloner
Online Backup from BackBlaze in case your house is destroyed by fire or flood.
Or keep another Time Machine backup at workplace and interchange frequently

I’ve got a backup in the office, and another one in another house. The office one is usually weekly, the other monthly, but I’m hoping to make that weekly too where possible soon. Belt and braces, belt and braces.

Also, do a test restore from your backups every now and then. It’s a valuable check to make sure (a) the backup is working correctly and (b) you understand where the backup is putting your data and how to get it back.


My recent experience with back-ups might be worthwhile to share:

In addition to Time Machine backups I use a service called Backblaze. Its ridiculously cheap–I’m primarily an artist who has lots of photo and video files, many terabytes of data and it costs me something like $5 a month.

It backs up via the Internet, so if you have tons of data it may take many days to upload. But once it does it is smart–if you move files or transfer them to another drive it doesn’t re-upload them again. You can throttle it to try to avoid the monopoly Comcast data limits.

So I do application back-ups (like Scrivener’s) where offered. Time Machine for everything. And Backblaze.

The other day a 4TB drive suddenly died. Too much to really download again. So for $189 Backblaze sent me a hard drive with all my data, which I copied over to a new 8 TB drive from OWC. Backblaze correctly saw they were old files on a new drive and didn’t re-upload anything. Better yet, when I sent the drive they sent me back to them (I paid the postage) they refunded the $189.

It cost me less than $10 (in postage) plus the cost of the new drive from OWC, to replace my data. Backblaze charged no additional fee during all of this.

I’m not quite clear how they make money on this deal.

I’m sure there are other, similar, services but I have no experience with them. Nice peace of mind to have everything not only backed up but offsite.