Scrivener deleted all words in project

A little dismayed, here.

I had about 20,000 words of my manuscript in Scrivener and now every page, from the title page on down, is completely blank. There is not a single word in any document of the project. But, the entire structure and outline is still there. Every document still has the right name, etc.

This happened to two separate projects and I’m at a loss to know why. I store/work from Google Drive, but that should have nothing to do with it.

Any suggestions on how I can recover my work?

PS: I had both projects backed up, but both seem to be wiped as well!

I’m so very sorry that you’ve lost work. There are a few things to try for restoring the project:

  • Automatic backups–You said you had a backup that was blank, but I wanted to mention these in case you were referring to a separate backup you’d made. With the default settings, Scrivener saves up to five backups of your project (created when the project is closed), so if you haven’t checked these, that’s the first go-to. You can access the backups folder via the button in the Backup tab of Tools > Options. I’d copy out all the backups for each of the two projects and put them in another location to keep them safe while you go through them to see if any are worth restoring, to prevent the older ones rolling off from opening and closing the project and its backups of the same name. (You can exclude projects from the backup routine using File > Back Up > Exclude from Automatic Backups, so if you’re just opening and closing backup projects to check them out, set that before closing.)

  • Google Drive’s earlier versions of the files–Like a lot of other sync services, Google Drive keeps previous versions of your synced files on the server for a limited period (30 days or 100 revisions), so you may be able to restore your work from here. I haven’t used this myself so I’m not sure how messy this will end up being, if you can restore a full version of the project folder in one go or if you’ll need to do items in the folder piecemeal, but even if you have to go through the items in your Files\Docs folder one at a time, there’s a good likelihood you’ll be able to recover the majority of your work. More info on Google Drive’s file versions here.

  • On Vista and up, Windows has its own file versioning system which can achieve the same as the above, so it’s another potential option. Microsoft’s support page on this for Vista is here; you can easily search for the appropriate OS version there.

Before delving too deeply into either of the second options, I’d also take a look into your project folder’s Files\Docs folder and check whether it contains a bunch of numbered text documents. If these are missing, or if they are otherwise named, that could help determine what caused the problem and, potentially, another way to fix it. There are no specific incompatibilities with Google Drive that I’m aware of, but as with all sync services, it’s important to follow the guidelines for a safe sync when storing your Scrivener projects there. If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest reading the “Scrivener Everywhere” section of the user manual or perusing the knowledge base article here–this uses Dropbox as the example, but the rules are the same.

Even following best practices, it’s still possible that a sync glitch could disrupt the documents within the Scrivener project, so it’s worth checking inside the folder to ensure there aren’t any conflicted versions or otherwise renamed files in the project. Since Scrivener needs to keep control of everything in the project folder, a third party software meddling with the naming scheme or otherwise modifying files can cause problems. Software that cleans your PC and moves older files around and such is another example; if you run anything like this, you’d want to put your Scrivener projects on the exemption list.

Moving your project while it’s open can also cause this sort of problem; in that case, you’d likely have two versions of the project saved on your computer, one at the new location and one at the old, with some files in each. You can try using the Windows search to look for the project name or the project folder’s “.scriv” extension to find all the Scrivener projects on your computer and see if there are any duplicates. If this has happened, we can work to merge the files back into a single project.

Along those lines, I’d also suggest switching to the current public beta of our next release, available for download in the Windows beta forum. In addition to other enhancements, the new version better detects if project files are being altered outside of the Scrivener interface while the project is open, to prevent further changes to the project. The current 1.5.0.8 beta expires February 01, at which point we’ll either have a newer beta available or will have the official release out.

Thanks for your reply Jennifer.

I browsed the Scrivener backup folder, and out of the 5 backups there, only one contained content: the 4 more recent backups had the exact same file size and had every word deleted. But the one good one saved the day!

The file size change marks the point I saved the project to Google Drive, I believe. Somehow something went wrong and frighteningly every word was deleted from each subsequent backup.

My recommendation if considering using Google Drive: proceed with caution. For single files its fantastic, but for more complex collections such as a Scrivener project, it might cause sync conflicts that could really ruin your day…or your year.

Phew…lesson learned! Onward…

Note that you can increase the number of backups kept in under Tools->Options->Backups. I always keep mine set to 25.