The Most Basic and Embarrassing Question

As an absolute newbie to Scrivener and word processing who is trying his hand at writing a novel for the first time I’m just about ready to go back to my typewriter of old. Yes, sorry to say, I am that frustrated. My “most basic” question is this: What, precisely, should I do at the end of a writing session if I choose to turn the computer off? And, what do I do the next morning to get back to where I left off writing?

Since beginning with Scrivener almost a month ago I’ve usually left the computer on at night. So it was never a problem to get directly back into the work in the morning. In the last ten days, however, I have occasionally turned the computer off at night, remembering to back up to dropbox and a flash drive manually. I assume I did this correctly but I am not sure, given my scrambled brain at the moment. However, I know I have backups of some kind in those places. (As well as in Time Machine, I assume, since it is connected to an external drive)

My most basic confusion is with the “Project Templates” window buttons “Open Recent” and "Open an “Existing File.” Because: To me a recent file is also an existing file, and vice versa. What’s the difference? Obviously, both will show half a dozen recent and existing files. So, what do I need to do to simply go back to where I left off writing?

Complicating matters for me even more is that I just lost about two hours of writing for a scene. (I am still no farther than my first chapter, and after some panicky searching of various backup files I did find what was “lost.”) But I have no clue how I lost the scene in the first place --I’ve also had problems emptying the trash, but can’t imagine how the scene would have gotten into the trash. It seems the Trash icon is most often - but not always - grayed out. Why is that?

On a similar matter, I have read quite a few posts regarding backups and backup strategy. And the more I read the more I realize that, apparently, there is no consensus on what is the best practice. Again, as a newcomer to ALL of this, I assumed that storing “in the cloud” was the best thing ever. Until I read about corrupted files, danger of theft, etc. Life as we know it is a risk, but is there really no reasonably safe way to go other than making five or ten backups in different places every time we stop writing for awhile? I’m at the edge of thinking that Shakespeare would have given up writing cold turkey if he had faced the kind of electronic complications present-day writers have. Which makes we wonder: how much of this is paranoia, or marketing, or touting one’s own preferences, etc.

Sorry to go on and on. My most basic question really is: How do I set up Scrivener to automatically - or at least simply - take me back to where I left off writing the day before? I seem to remember someone here saying that “Scrivener will remember where you were …”

If I get through this “little” glitch I suppose all the rest will become clear to me eventually. All suggestions for a SIMPLE working plan are greatly appreciated. Thanks a million for your patience with this old codger.

So… the question you are looking to answer is: “How do I configure Scrivener to bring me back to where I left off when I closed it last?” Right?

Answer: Go to the Scrivener->Preferences menu. Then select the General section of the preferences window. At the top, make sure that “Reopen projects that were open on quit” is checked.

When you are done for the day, with Scrivener menu visible at the top of the screen, hit CMD-Q, or select the Scrivener->Quit Scrivener menu. This will close your project, make an automatic backup (configurable in the Backup section of Preferences), and then quit Scrivener. When next you launch Scrivener, it will reopen the same project(s) you had open when you quit.

Unless you’ve encountered a bug, the window should look just like it did when you quit.

Answers to other questions:
Recent projects is a list of the most recent 10 (or 5, or 20… it’s configurable) scrivener projects you’ve had open. Contrast this with Open Existing File, which can be used to open a project that is not on your “Recent” list. It also makes it possible to distinguish which of two (or more) identically named projects you are actually opening (such as copies of “My Great Novel” in Documents and on the Desktop). This is because you have to navigate to the folder in which the project is located via “open existing file”, whereas the recent list just shows the names (and not locations) of the projects.

Hitting CMD-Delete can send a file to the trash. I can’t explain why the Empty Trash menus is greyed out; but if you’ve found a file in the trash you didn’t mean to put there, then that’s an argument for not emptying it very often, if at all.

Backup practices range from “non-existent” to “ridiculous overkill”. I tend toward the later, but if you’ve set your automatic backups to save to a folder under Dropbox, and you have a time machine backup running, then you’re doing well enough, and don’t have much to worry about at all. You can verify if they are being placed there by opening the Mac OS X finder, navigating to your Dropbox folder, and then to wherever you set up your backups (again in the Preferences window, using the settings in the Backup tab). Click on the Date column to sort and then scroll until you see the most recent dates to see when the last one was created.

You can verify that Time Machine is working by clicking on its icon in the menubar; it will say “Latest backup to “Your Computer Name””: and show the date on the next line below.

Yet, even with a typewriter you can lose everything in a fire, rot, flood or theft, and it is incalculably more difficult to create a typewritten backup than it is to duplicate a copy of a file on a computer, which is one important reason why so many of us put up with computer complexity in the first place. Even if all you do is keep the duplicate on that same computer, you’ve just made yourself safer, as you found out first hand when you were able to recover some lost work from a backup—a duplicate—on your computer.

How much of the rest you decide to learn is a personal choice really.

But visiting your Backup preference pane and choosing a backup folder that is somewhere inside Dropbox is probably one of the safer choices you can make (whether or not Dropbox/“cloud”/Internet storage/whatever is secure itself is another question, but just consider that there are people who have made careers out of data storage and security, and they are the ones storing your data. It’s hard for an individual to compete with that, even if they spend a decade studying theory. Theft/NSA/whatever is going to be a risk no matter where you store your data).

I would on the other hand consider keeping your actual projects outside of Dropbox unless you really need to sync them to multiple machines. Having them inside a monitored folder like that just increases complexity greatly, and adds things to the list of things you have to be careful of, such as sync status before shutting down and all that. The best way to reduce risk is to reduce complexity first.

So down to the core question:

Well, by default Scrivener will try to load the last set of projects you had open when you quit it. If you close the project first and then quit Scrivener that might not happen though. Just try quitting Scrivener when you’re done. Make sure “Reopen projects that were open on quit” is enabled in the General preference pane.

But I really like to stress this as a convenience. It really, really pays to learn how files work and where they are stored on your computer so that when (not if, but when) something goes wrong and Scrivener loses track of your project, you know how to find it and how to load it. If you know that, then you need never stress over whether things will be remembered automatically.

It does try to, like I say, not only with your projects but within them as well. If you leave off in a scene and come back to it a day later, it should be scrolled right to where you were when you left off. If that isn’t working there is perhaps a problem. If you are losing work and your last place is constantly getting lost, that’s a pretty big red flag that whatever process you are using to save your work is malfunctioning. My first suspect in this case would be the complexity of Dropbox, hence my earlier recommendation to keep the project out and the backups in.

Backups are safer to store there because they are created once, as a single “simple” file, and thus uploaded once and then they just sit there doing nothing until they are refreshed a few days later. When you put a project in a Dropbox monitored folder, you are registering hundreds, maybe even thousands of files, dozens of which will be changing several times a minute as you work. A Scrivener project has a lot of little hidden pieces to it, and every piece comes with its own risk table the more you use it. Drag it outside of the Dropbox folder, and all of that goes away. It’s no longer a factor.

Thanks so much, Amber. I’ve made some progress in the last few hours, but I’m still not at all sure about many things at this point. I have three specific questions:

  1. To avoid confusion with my past Scrivener project files I’ve changed the temporary title of my book. What was (imaginary title): Great Book 2014-01-11 23-03 is now: Book
    What has happened here? I never assigned anything to either tag except the words “Great Book” or “Book”. What do the numbers mean and should I even care? Also, why are some past files tagged .scriv and some .zip ?

  2. I am also confused about your statements regarding Dropbox. You wrote “I would consider keeping actual projects outside of Dropbox unless you really need to sync them to multiple machines.” I do not need to sync them; but how do you differentiate between “actual” projects and “backups” which you claim (in the last paragraph) are “safer to store there.” ?

  3. What is your opinion about using flash drives as one primary method of backing up my work. A local writer claims he has done this for years with problems. I would think that using, say, two drives for regular backups to ongoing writing, keeping one on my person and another perhaps in the car, etc, would be a reasonable way to protect one’s work.

I realize that the biggest part of my confusion with all of this is my own ignorance about how my computer stores things. On the other hand, I’ve been a successful pro photographer for many years, using Photoshop, and I never had to be concerned about where, or how my unretouched and retouched files were stored. I simply saved my work within Photoshop, iPhoto, etc., also saved to a CD, and that was that. Am I just imagining that Scrivener is much more complicated – or am I losing it? (Don’t answer that) But seriously, if you could suggest a simple, straightforward, relatively secure way for me to proceed --I’m only trying to write one little book! – I would be ever so grateful. Thank you for your patience; I really do appreciate it.

To answer questions 1 and 2:

The numbers (2014-01-11 23-03) are the date and time the file was saved. Computers tend to store dates in reverse as it’s more efficient for filing purposes, so that they read “Year/Month/Day/Time”. This is to differentiate different saves of a file.

As to “.scriv” vs. “”, the first is a project file, the second is a compressed backup file. The reason you’d keep your project files locally and backup files in dropbox is because backups are compressed. This means they take up less space, but can’t be directly worked on - it would need to be uncompressed first. Additionally, pulling your project file from the cloud every time you want to work on it puts you at the mercy of the internet bandwidth gods, meaning problems like the weather can affect your ability to get at your work.

Thanks to Robert and Splodge for your tips and suggestions. I do appreciate it. Bit by bit I’m making some progress. A couple of other things I forgot to mention earlier: Should I be at all concerned by the amount of research material I’m placing into the binder, in terms of memory usage, slower operation, file size, etc? And, believe it or not, I’m having some issues posting these posts! Three times in the past, after writing out my questions/concerns I’ve pressed “Preview” and/or “Save” and watched my post simply disappear. What gives?

The only real issue with size is your backups; it will take longer to create them, longer to transmit them up to the Dropbox servers, and also take up more of the Dropbox space you have, depending on how many backup files are kept… which is configurable, as you may have seen in the backup settings.

But as far as using Scrivener, it only loads the files from disk that you have selected to be in one or both editor panes, so there aren’t any real memory issues to worry about. This is in direct opposition to most traditional word processors, which must load the entire document into memory from the disk. I’ve heard of tens of thousands of files being stored in a project with no ill effects.

As for item 3; As far as reliability, flash drives are just as good as most media. The down side is if you don’t have an automated way to back up your work onto them whenever they’re plugged in, then you have to remember to do it. I’d go with Dropbox and an external hard drive for Time machine (twice as big as your computer’s hard drive is best). Time machine only requires that you plug the drive in and let it do it’s thing. Dropbox only requires that you are connected to the internet some of the time.

Thanks again, Robert. With regard to using flash drives, to be perfectly honest the reason I think I like them - at least for the moment - is that I feel I have more control, even though that may be false security. I can hold them in my hand, even though the actual data inside them is not exactly “hard” data, like a newspaper. But I’m also going with your suggestions re Dropbox and Time Machine.

With regard to the issue of size of backups I have another, possibly dumb, question: Should it not be possible to automatically save and/or back up our writing without also including all the research material? Hemingway probably had only carbon copies of his manuscripts, and not a single carbon of any notes he might have made while fishing or hunting buffalo in Africa.

By the way, what’s that amber liquid you’re toasting with? I may need some of it for inspiration.

Well, there is a way to link to external file without importing them into your project; File->Import->Research Files as Aliases, which will create binder entries in a folder that is not your draft(aka manuscript, aka script…) folder. Aliases are just links to the external files, rather than copies of them. That can keep your project files lean while making (supported) files visible within the Scrivener interface. Personally, I don’t use that feature.

If you’re going to carry a flash drive with your precious writing backed up to it, I suggest you affix some kind of contact information to it so a kindly stranger or barista can help reunite you with your lost property; if it’s convenient (a quick phone call), a lot of people will do you that kindness. And if you’re paranoid that they may read your stuff or snoop through your private information, you can use Mac OS X’s Disk Utility to reformat it for Mac OS X and encrypt it.

I can’t recall for sure, but I’d wager my tasty beverage is an unfiltered wheat beer of some kind. It was a local brew I had while I was escaping the American Midwest’s heat wave a couple of years ago. Hefeweizens are my go-to beer, though I do enjoy a malty stout if I’m hungry.

Honestly, I’d rather lose my draft than my research. The draft is much easier to recreate if needed.

(I speak from experience on this, having once stupidly Fedexed a file folder full of conference notes to myself to lighten my luggage. Wouldn’t you know, that’s the only box of mine that Fedex has ever lost…)

FWIW, my feeling is that the best backup solution is the one you actually use. For most of us, that means the one that runs automatically, without human intervention.


I learned from these great common questions about Scrivener. Thanks for starting the thread. I am taking Gwen Hernandez’s online class for Scrivener ($45) starting Feb 22, also.

This is going to sound obsessive, I know, but I assure you that I do not clap three times before sitting on the toilet, walk only on the left side of my driveway, or tap my keys on the steering wheel before starting the car. So, no laughing!

My backup system (for Scrivener or anything else I write), i.e. places I store writing. (Note: I write away from home, in libraries).



2 Sandisk 8GB SD Card (always in the slot of my Macbook Pros, one in each MBP, never removed)

1 Kensington 8GB Flash Drive (on same USB dongle that I swap between each MBP by carrying in my messenger bag)

2 Identical Patriot Flash 8GB Flash Drives (explained below)

1 “Master” 32 GB Patriot Flash Drive (that looks different than the identicals above)

Time Machine on (2) Toshiba Hard Drives (one for each MacBook Pro).

2 MacBook Pros: store on HD Desktop AND Documents on Two identical Macbook Pros (2011 and 2012 models, the ones WITH a Kensington lock slot—the new Retinas and Airs do not have this (and the aftermarket stuff for locking sucks)).

How do I use them?

Set auto saves to either iCloud or Dropbox (if I’m in Wi-Fi), or Desktop or Documents internal HD if I’m not.

About every hour or so, manually “Save As” to iCloud, Dropbox, Sandisk SD, Kensington FD, Desktop and Documents (yep, Save As Save As, Save As, etc., manually going down the list). (saving to all six locations down the list takes me about 60 seconds).

At end of workday, I save the final work for the day, by adding a date to the file name, to ONE of the Patriot Identical FDs, and to the Master Patriot FD (plus all six of the other places I mention above; the 60 second Save As routine).

When I get home, I swap out the identical Patriot FD with its twin, which I kept at home that day; I use the twin the following day (thus, I only take one Patriot identical twin drive to library daily, alternating each day, so that if someone stole my MBP, and the clouds failed, I’d still have a copy at home of previous day’s work).

I use the Patriot 32GB Master every single day: it is the “drive” that I call up the prior days work from when I start a new day, every time.

Every other day, I use the OTHER MBP computer. That is to say, the MPB that I did not use the day before. By doing this, and always calling off the Master Patriot, they stay in perfect sync, and I am, in essence, saving work to BOTH computer’s Desktops and Documents. Plus, if a thief runs off with my MBP from the library (unlikely, as I have it cabled down like Fort Knox), I, literally, have another identical MBP at home.

Finally, save to Time Machine (each MBP has it’s own Toshiba HD) about every 2 weeks (I do not keep the Time Machine attached to the MacBook Pros continually while I work as, then, a virus could potentially corrupt the computer AND Time Machine HD simultanesouly and I’d lose not only my author work, but my entire computer backup). I keep the two Toshiba HDs in a fireproof Sentry safe in my home office.

When I do Time Machine, I might delete a few old files from the Master Patriot FD at the same time (I labeled them by date, which Scrivener does, too, but I do it again) so that deleting a chunk of them from the Master FD is easy—I do not delete them from the Desktop, identical twin Patriot FDs, etc, because, frankly, I could probably write for ten years and never fill them up (if they ever got full, I have so many backups, I would just wipe them clean as a whistle and start again).

This is my system, and I know it sounds complex as all get-out, but it’s truly essential and easy once one establishes a pattern. And now you can think that I’m a bona fide nut, but I do write 6-8 hours, six days a week, and cannot afford to lose any of the three or so projects that I am balancing a day (and cannot have downtime without a computer, so I have two MBPs, always in sync, always with great storage).

Whew—I’m thankful I wrote this in Pages so that I can cut and paste it if anyone asks me for my system in the future. LOL Okay, you can all lay into me now. LOL

Cheers, all. Sven

The only thing I’d recommend to you is to use File->Backup->Backup to… instead of “Save As”. It gives you the option to insert the date in the backup, and to zip it for easier transport from one place to another (internally, it’s a bunch of files & folders). It ALSO prevents you from accidentally editing the new copy you created via Save As, since that method plops you into the copy, not the original once the save is complete.

Thanks, Robert. Outstanding point. I sometimes do as you say (the .zip), but not routinely enough. I can see your point and will make it part of my daily routine. Thanks for that suggestion. :smiley:

Please note that iCloud is not reliable for live Scrivener projects. It should be fine for ZIP-format backups, but it doesn’t respect Scrivener’s package format and is fairly likely to cause corruption as a result.


My backup system as of old, years before I used Scrivener.

At the end of each day, the day’s work (now findable with ease using a smart search for any items created or modified Today, in case I have been working on several projects) gets compressed into an archive and this archive is then moved into a folder/directory titled with the day’s date such as 20140214. This folder is then moved into a folder with the month, such as 201402FEB and each monthly folder is put into its year, 2014. These are all within a backups folder.

Each day’s archive folder is copied to several places like Google Drive, Dropbox, flash drives, external hard drives. Early on I was also emailing it to myself at Yahoo mail or Hotmail or another webmail that offered large capacity.

I rely on it only rarely but then vitally. More than once I have gone back to an old story and find I changed it, months ago, in a way I don’t now like. `What happened to that scene with G and L?’ I wonder, and go back, day by day and month by month, until I find the last period I was working on that story, find a version before I cut out the scene with G and L, and restore that scene.

You can NEVER be too obsessive about creating, storing, labeling, and making available, backups of past drafts.

Another thing to keep in mind is to update all backups when the software you use is radically updated. Scrivener has been good so far in being able to read and update past .scriv formats, but in the bad old days many writers were stung when Microsoft Word could no longer read versions of Word docs created with much-earlier versions of Word. (Saving in plain-text, or a plain-text format like HTML, is a good safeguard here since at least the text can always be read. The .rtf at the base of Scrivener has been stable for some years now, though its codes, if you open an .rtf file in a plain-text editor, are harder to read than HTML.)

  • asotir

Katherine, I appreciate your thought. I seem to have read, on a blog or two, that Scrivener and iCloud only play well in the sandbox occasionally. Your comment made it clear to me: I will use it now only for .zip backups with regards to Scrivener. (I pray that iCloud supports Scapple backups well; I bought Scapple on Apple App store rather than L&L site solely because only Apple App store version has integrated iCloud backups). Thank you, Katherine, for helping me avoid future frustration. :smiley:

Asotir, that’s a great idea about the dated Archival Folders, and then moving the entire folder to Cloud, FD, HD, etc. I had never thought of that, particularly as I have 2-3 projects open daily, plus I do use Scapple (since last month, it’s a killer program: highly recommend it for anyone on the fence), and your method is more organized than mine, where all the files just hang out there with their own date labels. I’m going to seriously think about adding your Folder idea to my current gauntlet of Saves and BackUps. Also,your point about updating backups when the underlying software changes is a meaningful suggestion. Thanks! :smiley:

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. Sven in Chicago 8)

iCloud should be fine for Scapple.

The difference is that a Scapple project is just one file, while a Scrivener project is really a folder containing potentially hundreds of files. iCloud doesn’t seem to preserve the relationships between files in the Scrivener project, but faces no such issue with Scapple.


Thanks again, Katherine. Scapple sure is a simple but fantastic program (and, someday, it will hopefully have improved integration with Scrivener).

For those that might not know what Katherine and I are referring to, here’s the video for Scapple Intro, L&L:

Back to Scrivener*********I do hope that the respected creators of this spectacular program, Scrivener, acknowledge that the number one and number two threads on this Tech Forum for replies are regarding Dropcloud and Network/Storage, i.e. Backups/Saves. By far, the most questions and responses. We all will depend on the Administrators and Creators of this program to please simplify this in future updates (it certainly would save a ton of questions and emails that L&L must be getting–man, I’d be pulling my hair out :laughing: ) … ices-2013/

For landsmann et al., above is a link to a gentleman who is trying to negotiate the sometimes iceberg-laden waters of Scrivener backups, saves and use between computers. It’s informative reading.

Svencil Pencil.

What would your improved, simpler mechanism look like?

Scrivener already backs itself up regularly, obeying a set of options that are clearly defined and user-configurable. For the most part, that mechanism works very well.

Automated layers on top of Scrivener’s automatic backups also work well: Time Machine, CrashPlan, Dropbox as a backup mechanism.

Where people start to have problems that result in emails to the support team is, quite honestly, when they try to get fancy. They use the automatic backups and/or manual saves for version control, refer to them frequently, but don’t use a clear naming convention. And so they ultimately end up with 10 or 15 files (plus backups!) all having essentially the same name and no idea which is which.

Or they use backup tools that also offer “enhanced” functionality like disk cleanup, or partial downloads, and get their projects mangled because the backup tool doesn’t respect the integrity of Scrivener’s project structure.

Or they use multiple backup mechanisms without considering the interactions between them, and end up with a pile of confusingly named backups of backups. Or, worse, Tool A decides that Tool B’s backups are “duplicates,” and deletes them. :open_mouth:

Or they email their files to themselves, without ever checking (until a disaster strikes) to make sure that the file arrived intact at the other end. (A Scrivener project won’t, unless you make it into a ZIP file.)

While certainly we are always open to constructive suggestions, at some point users need to take responsibility for their own data. Select your tools carefully, understand how they work, and use them consistently, and you’ll be fine.