I know you just came here to ask about label colors, but we’ve just had some posters who lost data while syncing and didn’t have adequate backups, so I am now going to overload you with some background on my opinion of best practices for syncing and backing up Scrivener projects. FYI, so you know where I’m coming from, I am just a fellow customer and not an L&L employee. The info below is just my opinion.
I’m sorry for the length of this tome–I mean post. This is why I write novels and not short stories. I’m not trying to overwhelm you, just trying to make you aware. My apologies if you already know some or most of this stuff.
I’ve broken this into two pieces: Syncing and Backups.
Syncing and sharing Scrivener projects between devices can work flawlessly. For the last couple of years, I have synced my Scrivener projects between my PC’s and my iPad and my iPhone multiple times a day, with no issues. Hundreds of thousands of words passing back and forth between these devices, and I’ve never lost a word. There are many Scrivener users on this forum who’ve had the same experience.
But syncing and sharing between devices can also break Scrivener projects.
Here are some of the symptoms of a broken project:
- Missing documents or parts of documents
- Project won’t open
- Project opens, documents are all there, but they’re all empty
- Variations of the above
If you look through the posts on these forums, for topics entitled something along the lines of “Scrivener Lost my chapter!” or “Can’t open my project!” or “50,000 words have VANISHED!” or some other panicked version of that theme, invariably you’ll find that some sort of syncing was involved.
While there is always some risk involved in syncing data from one device to another, some types of data are simpler to sync than others. A live Scrivener project is a relatively complex thing, containing potentially hundreds of files. This structure makes the risk of something going wrong higher. All it takes is one file not syncing correctly, and you’ve got a problem.
It may sound like I’m trying to scare you, but in truth I’m just trying to make you aware of the risks involved with syncing, so you can mitigate them appropriately. As I said earlier, syncing/sharing projects between multiple devices can work flawlessly. Here are some of the things you can do to make that happen:
1 - Confirm your cloud provider can handle the structure of Scrivener projects. Many cannot, but DropBox can, so you’re good there.
2 - Make sure your wifi and internet connections are reliable. If you’re in a situation where your wifi or internet goes down a lot or is spotty, relying on that to sync your precious writing is not a good idea.
3 - Ensure your PC and Laptop are stable and don’t freeze up. The DropBox app will run on both of these, and if these devices have issues that cause the DropBox app to fail or otherwise not run correctly, that will lead to sync issues.
4 - Always close and ensure your project is fully synced on one device, and then make sure it is fully synced on the other device, before opening it on the other device.
Here’s an example of how #4 would look in practice.
Let’s say you will modify the Scrivener project on your PC, and then later you’ll make more changes on your laptop, and then after that you’ll make further changes on the PC. Here’s how you would do it:
a) On your PC, confirm that DropBox has finished syncing. If you hover your mouse over the DropBox app in the toolbar, it will say some variation of “DropBox up to date”.
b) On your PC, open the Scrivener project and make your changes. When you’re done, close the Project. Confirm that DropBox has finished syncing.
c) On your Laptop, confirm that DropBox has finished syncing.
d) On your Laptop, open the Scrivener project, and make your changes. When you’re done making your changes, close the Project. Confirm that DropBox has finished syncing.
e) On your PC, confirm that DropBox has finished syncing.
f) On your PC, open the Scrivener project and make your changes…etc.
If you follow this process scrupulously, and your connectivity and devices are functioning properly, you will likely never have an issue with syncing. If you don’t follow it, you will surely have issues, and there will come a time when you may need to recover from a backup.
An important thing to note up front is that keeping your live Scrivener project files on DropBox is not a backup. A backup is a static, unchanging copy of your data–a snapshot in time. But the syncing process creates a living, changing replica of your data in the DropBox cloud and across all devices that you’ve linked to the Dropbox cloud.
In other words, DropBox’s job is to replicate the data on device A to the cloud and then to Device B. What this means in practice is, if project files on your PC are somehow damaged, DropBox will faithfully sync those damaged files to the cloud, and then sync them to your Laptop, thereby replicating the error everywhere! That’s not a backup.
As you are already aware, Scrivener comes with the built-in capability to create zipped backups of your projects. A zipped backup is just a snapshot copy of all your project’s folders and files, compressed into an easy-to-manage file. It’s a great, simple system to ensure that the writing in your projects has been copied somewhere.
Here are my recommendations for how you should set Scrivener’s various backup options. Be sure to set these on both your PC and your Laptop!
In Scrivener, go to Tools>Options>Backup, and set your configuration as follows:
Turn on automattic backups = yes
Back up on project close = yes (more about this one below)
Back up with each manual save = yes (more about this one below)
Back up before updating from mobile device = yes (this won’t apply unless you start using iOS Scriv, but it can’t hurt)
Compress as zip files = yes
Use date in name = yes
Retain backup files = 25. The ‘Retain’ setting is Scrivener’s way of cleaning up your backups, which seems like a good idea, but may not be depending on your situation. I think the default is 5. Changing it to 25 will take up more space on your hard drive, but it’s worth it.
Here’s why: What typically happens when you have an issue with a Scrivener project, for example if your project gets corrupted for some reason, is that you will open and close the project many times trying to figure out what’s wrong, and each time you do that Scrivener will make a backup of your corrupted project, and at the same time it will delete your oldest good backup, thus effectively overlaying a good backup with a corrupted one! With the default of 5, by opening and closing your project 5 times, you end up with only corrupted backups!
By the time you realize you have to restore your project from a backup, you may not have any good ones left! Unfortunately, we see that sort of thing all the time on these boards.
So change the Retain backup files setting to 25. I have changed my own setting to “Keep all backup files”, as I’d rather manage the backups and clean them up myself. At the end of each day, I typically keep the last backup of that day’s work and delete the others. You can try that and see if it works for you.
- Backup location = Wherever you like, just not in the same folder as where you store your projects.
One very common practice, and one which I recommend, is to store your your zipped backups on OneDrive, or Google Drive, or some other cloud service (if the files are zipped, any service will do). The advantages of this approach is that a copy of your zipped backups are kept in the cloud, so if you lose your hard drive they will still be available. For instance, say you’ve decided on saving your zipped backups to a free OneDrive account. You can point both your PC and your laptop to the same OneDrive folder, and the backups from device will end up in the same place. That will make it easier to find the latest backup, in the event that disaster strikes.
Once you’ve changed these backup configurations, they will apply against all your Scrivener projects on that device. Again, make these changes to both your PC and your laptop.
One last point on the settings ‘Back up on project close’ and ‘Back up with each manual save’: Do you close Scrivener at the end of every writing session? You should, because the backup setting ‘Back up on project close’ only works if you actually close your project. A classic mistake people make is to set scrivener to take a backup at project close, and then they never close their project! So when disaster strikes, they have no backups.
If you must always keep your project open, then my advice is to set ‘Back up with each manual save’ = yes, and ‘Retain backup files’ = All. Then, while you are writing, periodically do Ctl-S. This will take a zipped backup of your entire project. You must remember to clean up after them yourself periodically.
Speaking of Ctl-S, saving in Scrivener will not save you. If you’re used to how MS Office saves, where, for example, if you save your open Word doc and keep working, you can be confident that the data since your last save is recoverable in the event there is a crash, understand that Scrivener’s save process does not work the same way. Despite Scrivener’s auto-save, if a crash occurs the open project may become corrupted and/or data may be lost. I have experienced this myself, back when Windows Scrivener was more prone to crashing. But backups will save you, which is why I’m putting such emphasis on ensuring you understand how backups work in Scrivener.
Regularly backup both your to external PC & your laptop to an external hard disk or a cloud service. This will protect all your non-Scrivener stuff, for Instance projects that you’ve compiled to Word or PDF, etc. This will give you protection if your PC’s hard drive crashes.
Okay, that’s it. Holy crap, this turned into a long post! Sorry about that. Let me know if you have any questions.
P.S. If you’re not yet completely saturated will backup-related info, here is a post on the topic by Katherine, one of the L&L support team: