Many of my stories have disappeared; please help!

For no apparent reason. At first, the icon showed that the material seemed to be there, but then once clicked, it was clear that material had disappeared. I did not back up, as I thought it would be like a word document that would be saved automatically. I have some old versions kicking around, but I’d love to be able to access the material that I wrote on Scrivener. I have a “Manuscript” and each story is saved as a “folder.” Many, but not all, of these folders are now completely empty. Thanks for any help you might be able to offer.

Scrivener saves any changes to your documents in a project automatically after 2 seconds of idle time (by default). So, unsaved changes is not likely your problem.

  1. When you say many of the folders are now empty, what exactly do you mean? Do you mean there are no subdocuments in the folder as seen in the (navigation) Binder at left or do you mean that when you click on a folder, you don’t see your text on the right in the editor pane? If the latter, you may have just changed your viewing mode.

Things it may be useful to know for diagnostic purposes:

  1. Did you open the project file from its location on your hard drive or did you open it from within Scrivener, using, for example, the Recents menu?

  2. Is your project file saved in a location that is tied into some kind of cloud sync service? If so, what service?

  3. Are you accessing that project from any other device (like iOS scriv or from another computer)? Your project should only ever be open on one machine at a time.

What I mean by empty is that there is no text. I have a short story collection that is comprised of short stories and a novella. Each short story is written in a folder, the novella is a number of subdocuments contained within a folder. All but two of my short stories have vanished. There is no text anywhere, regardless of view mode.

I have always opened my project from within the Scrivener application, as I did not know that was dangerous to do so.

I did at one point try to put the project into Creative Cloud (Mac based). Again, I did not know that I was risking one year’s worth of work by doing so.

Yes, Scrivener is on both my laptop and my desktop. I don’t work both computers at the same time, but I’m sure that sometimes I don’t always close out of all applications before switching computers. Again, had I known that all of my last year’s work might mysteriously vanish, I might have taken this precaution.

Please forgive my somewhat taut tone, but I really am freaking out. You have a great product, but it’s only great if it doesn’t eat all my work. I have never had such issues with any other product. I never think twice about working on Mac Pages, for instance, I just open up the application and work and my work doesn’t disappear. I have various old drafts floating around, because I’m paranoid enough to occasionally “compile” the Scrivener documents, but the last few “compiles” are also missing work, because I “compiled” without the knowledge that the work had gone missing.

If there’s any way my work might be saved somewhere within the app, that would be great to know. The preferences are set to autosave. There are “” documents in my Documents folder, but none of these actually open when I click them.

Thanks for any guidance you might provide. Again, I’ve widely recommended your product, but now this product is causing me a great deal of unnecessary anguish. It is not safe, or maybe it’s safe only if one takes a lot of non-intuitive precautions. I’d really love your product if 1) I can get the past year’s work back, and 2) if I don’t have to be a Scrivener tech expert to feel like my work is safe.

Hi, Juliet,

To be clear, I am just a fellow user on the forum trying to help. Folks from Lit & Lat also haunt this user forum, so hopefully one of those will come by to assist soon.

Scrivener by default automatically backs up your projects when you close them and holds backups several iterations back. If I were you I would immediately secure (copies of) my backups of the project in question for safety until you can figure out what is going on. If you do not know where your backups are being saved, you can find a button in the Backup area of Scrivener’s Preferences that will take you right to it.


FYI, neither GR nor myself are Lit & Lat employees. This forum is frequented by many users who share what experience and insights they’ve gleaned from using Scrivener (and other programs).

Opening from the recents menu isn’t risky, but it’s preferable that you keep in mind where on your hard drive your projects are stored; the recents menu only keeps track of so many things, and it can be confusing if you use “File->Save As…” to create copies in other folders, so that you have multiple “my future best-selling novel” projects listed there.

When you open Scrivener, go to the menu Scrivener->Preferences->Backup. In that pane, there will be a button to open the location of your backups folder in the Finder. Once there, sort by name, and copy all of your project’s backups elsewhere; I suggest creating a “Scrivener Triage” folder for these files. It should be clear to you that the folder is not for on-going work, but for fixing your issue, so you don’t end up in an even more confusing situation down the road.

Now that you have that folder, with copies of your project’s backups, unzip them (on Mac, that’s usually just a double-click). Open each of those from the Finder, and see if any of them match up to the most recent iteration of your project. If so, delete your defective project from wherever it is, and then use File->Save As to place your good backup copy in a logical place, such as your Documents folder. Delete your “Triage” folder, and continue on with your work. Note that you should never edit projects that are currently in the backups folder.

If that isn’t helpful, then I’d go to your Time Machine backups, assuming you have a time machine backup drive. You can either look in the original location of your project, restoring older copies of it to see if any of them are complete, or you can go to your backups folder, and retrieve older backup files from there.

Hope that helps…

Thank you, GR, for your help and your clarification that you’re not with Scrivener. I do appreciate your time, expertise, and guidance. Very best, Juliet.

hi Robert, thank you so much for your time, expertise, and guidance, as well as for the clarification that you’re not actually with Scrivener. I’m trying to contact them directly as well. I’ll try your suggestions. For some odd reason, my Scrivener zip files aren’t opening either, so I’ll see if the Time Machine works. Very best, Juliet.

Sorry to hear that your backups weren’t immediately helpful. But I’m glad to see you have a time machine drive, so you should be able to keep going back in time with your backups until you get to one created on a date where you had a good copy of your project. Look for a file dated for a time when you had last worked on the project, before you discovered this issue.

Once you’ve got all this sorted out, I recommend re-visting the backups preference, and changing 3 things:

  1. Make sure it .zip compresses your backups.
  2. Make it insert the date and time into the backup filename, for easier sorting by age of backup
  3. Set it to keep more than 5 backups at a time. I recommend 10 if you have very large (200MB+) projects, or 25 if your projects are smaller than that. It’s always more convenient to not have to use Time Machine if you don’t have to.

Good luck!

When you say that your backup files “aren’t opening,” be sure that you’ve unzipped them first. Scrivener can’t open ZIP files directly.

If you’ve done that, what happens when you try to open the backup project?

Unfortunately, the zip back ups did open but they were simply saved copies of the manuscript that already had material missing. I’m just curious where the stories went. How could they just disappear?!? I thought I had Time Machine but apparently I do not. I’m still hoping that the Scrivener creators might have some bright idea about where the stories might be, but at this point I’m resigned to rewriting about 8 of the stories based on very old drafts, or just dealing with the loss. I’ll likely continue to use Scrivener, but will be sure to export as Doc files and “compile” the files after every single work session, because as far as I can tell, there’s some kind of significant glitch in the system that simply and unpredictably makes work disappear if it’s stored within the actual Scrivener program. Thank you for your concern and your outreach. It actually makes the sting of lost material more bearable.

Also: dear Literature and Latte Forum contributors: Scrivener is lucky to have you, and I appreciate your volunteer time, expertise, concern, and guidance. I am still waiting to hear back from Scrivener itself.

Going back to the beginning…

You said you work on the project on two different computers. Have you checked the other computer and its automatic backups as well?

How do you share work between the two computers?

These symptoms – complete Binder, blank files – are consistent with a synchronization error where the index file has been downloaded from a cloud service but the rest of the project has not. This can happen with any synchronization service, but sometimes iCloud users in particular aren’t aware that they’ve enabled the potentially problematic behavior. (Apple doesn’t explain it well.) In the Apple → System Preferences → Internet Accounts → iCloud tab, is iCloud Drive enabled? If it is, what options are checked?

If you’ve had these on a cloud-synced service, depending on the service, they can remove files from your hard drive that you haven’t touched in a while, expecting you to navigate to the folder where an individual .rtf or .txt (or .doc, or docx…) file is, where it puts a placeholder that makes that service re-download the actual file from the cloud and then hands it over to your word processor. Your scrivener project file is actually a folder, and it contains at least 1 (likely 2+) rtf/txt files per entry in your binder.

When Scrivener goes to open the file, it doesn’t do it in a way that signals to these sync services that you want a file, so it finds no content (just like you’d only just made a new entry in the binder and hadn’t typed anything). Now you have a new blank file that Scrivener created, which gets synced up to the cloud to replace the one with words. This is very much because these services do not alert Scrivener to the fact that there’s data for the file they’re looking for and that it should wait for them to download that data.

Dropbox by default never removes files you haven’t touched in a while. A few others act that way if you change a setting, but default to “making space” on your hard drive by removing them from your computer’s hard drive and wait to re-download from their servers when you try to open them.

So that’s one way it can happen. The other is if you move your project (a folder that looks like a single file, containing many folders and files itself) from such a synced location. The Finder may not be aware of how to communicate to the sync service that you’re moving a whole folder and all its contents, so it moves what’s currently on your hard drive, and ignores the stuff that’s not there. Meanwhile, the service sees the containing folder is gone from the part of your hard drive that it’s monitoring, so I deletes everything. Now all you have is the bare minimum skeleton of your project.

[EDIT: I skimmed your last reply, and missed that you didn’t have Time Machine backups]

Your Scrivener backups, by default, keep 5 of the most recent copies of your project. They’re created when you close a project after triggering some kind of auto-save, which can be even a very minor change to the project that doesn’t necessarily change the text. So your backups must have all been replaced when you were opening and investigating your incomplete project.

The only other option is to look at the sync service where you had your project. They often have 30 days of backups of your files that you can retrieve. I know Dropbox does at least. I’m not familiar with Creative Cloud, but there will hopefully be a web interface that you can try to restore older files from. You’d be looking through the internal folders and files of your project there, so look for rich text files.

Have you looked at the Scrivener-made backups on both computers? Maybe the other computer’s backups contain a good copy?

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Robertdguthrie and Kewms: thank you so much! You have explained the mystery. I do have Creative Cloud and am not adept at using it, but I did try once to get the most recent draft of my manuscript on to both computers. I will see if Creative Cloud saves back ups. Thank you both so much for your generosity of time and expertise!!! <3

You mention Creative Cloud which is an Adobe Suite of applications. Do you mean iCloud?

Creative Cloud also gives you 100 Gb of file storage (according to their website). I have no experience of using it, but I don’t think I would want to upload Scrivener projects to it unless they were zipped backups. Unless I had tested it with a dummy project first and found it reliable. But sync over the net seems to be a rich source of problems. DEVONthink became a total pain for me.

aha - I wouldn’t put anything non-Adobe related on their servers, but then I refuse to give that bunch of crooks a cent of my money anyhow. Almost everything they charge obscene amounts per month for is available from others, just as good overall at about the equivalent of one month sub for a lifetime licence. I used CS (the full shebang) until it went sub then cheerfully abandoned them. Apart from a slight learning curve here and there, haven’t looked back.

Thank you, @mbbntu ! I’m beginning to realize that sync over the net is dangerous. I thought it would be more like AirDropping my current draft from one computer to the other. Lesson learned! I think maybe I should export all my Scrivener files to Word files, email myself the Word files, and then re-import my recent draft Word files into Scrivener on the other computer. Not elegant, but perhaps safe. Again, thanks for your time and thoughts!

@RuffPub, yes, thanks, I’m beginning to see where the problem lies. I just thought it would be so great if I could keep my draft current on both computers, but it seems like cloud anything is not the way to go these Scrivener files…Thanks for your time and reply!

Save yourself a lot of effort and just use File->Back Up->Back Up to…, select the .zip compress check-box, and make sure to locate this special “backup” somewhere handy, like your desktop. Then transfer that one .zip file to the other computer to be unzipped there. No need to try and shuffle a bunch of files around between computers.