Toolbox 6: How I found my lost Scrivener files and 65k of work

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


About a week ago I gave my laptop permission to do an update and restart but I forgot to close Scrivener first. I use Dropbox as a backup and link between my laptop and desktop. A few days later I went back to work on my WIP and it wouldn’t open. I was at about 65k and ice immediately ran through my veins.

It suggested I make a copy, because another app was using the file. The problem was the file was not open anywhere else and the project’s copy wouldn’t open either.

There was an HEA

I’m writing today to explain how I made it to a happy ending even though I made many mistakes along the way.

I started by going through the rest of my files in my Dropbox and tested them for issues. There were a couple but this time copying the files worked fine.

Alas not so for the story I was working on. All the files were there but it wouldn’t open. I could see them and there weren’t any obvious issues. But every time I tried to open it, Scrivener crashed, claiming there was no application for the executable file.

A little about my WIP–A scifi mystery that involved tons and tons of research. It was hours of my time I didn’t want to repeat.

Scrivener keeps it all straight so I don’t have to memorize it all.

As I rebuilt my WIP by going through all the rtf files and putting them all in the right places, it didn’t occur to me my research would be lost. The rebuild took about eight hours.

And I didn’t mind. At least my work was there. Then I went through the project: all of my settings were gone, all my links, and all my research. I couldn’t find it anywhere.

This left me very unhappy. You probably noticed my laziness sticking its nose out. So I walked away. I kept telling myself I had the work and to quit being a baby about the rest.

So after stewing, and some pouting, I decided to revive my original Scrivener project no matter what.

It took exactly one afternoon and a coincidence to bring about my happy ending.

Windows 10 and Calibre

Before I realized my research was gone, I was trying to add a plugin to Calibre and ran into some trouble with a zip file. Yes, Windows 10 does unzip most files for easy access. It works great if you are the user, but when an application tries to access them, it doesn’t always fly.

For the longest time I couldn’t figure it out. I fiddled with the zip folder for quite a while trying to install a new plugin and landed up having to unzip it manually to make it work.

Back to the Scrivener Project.

I had run out of ideas with Dropbox. But as I searched on the internet, a post made something very clear. Scrivener does their own backups.

So I went looking.

I found them all BUT apparently Scrivener didn’t have authorization to open any of them.

Wrong! Remember Calibre.

All backups were stored as zip folders and it needed someone—me—to unzip them first and then Scrivener had access.

Fool that I am I did this first on my desktop and not my laptop. I felt like one of my characters. Failure after failure. But when I went to my laptop, I knew exactly what to do.

I’m still smiling.

I did a comparison with the copy (that would not run from Dropbox) and added what was missing to my restored backup project. Once it looked like the original, I opened it. My research, links and settings were all there and waiting for me.

There is something to be said about being stubborn and I’m all that.

So here’s a quick suggestion for the Scrivener User that also uses Dropbox.

  1. In Scrivener, go to Tools–>Options and then find the Backup tab. Check and make sure “Turn on automatic backups” is ticked.
  2. At the bottom of the Option (backup) Window choose a good place to save your backups. As in, a place you can find them easily. (You may want to create a shortcut)
  3. Carry on and hope nothing goes wrong and know if it does you know exactly where your WIPs are waiting.
  4. Depending on your memory, make a readme file with the directions about unzipping the file you’ll need, and you’re set.

Has this put me off Dropbox or Scrivener? N0pe. I love both of them. It was my fault. I should have closed all my apps down before the windows restart.

In case you don’t know:

Scrivener is an application that supports outlining, tracking research, structuring and restructuring of long documents—novels, novellas, etc. Its purpose enables a writer to go from idea to first draft as painlessly as possible. My plots tend to be intricate and this app allows me to rearrange my work for the best narrative.

Dropbox is an online cloud where data, written work, can be saved and accessed by more than one computer. It allows for collaboration as well as ease of access. For me, I can write from anywhere and save my work in one place.

Calibre is an application that maintains an elibrary. All soft copies of your books, collected or written, can be saved, organized, and backed-up in one database. I use mine to read my work on my ereader.

Here’s something else you may like.

Scrivener NaNo’17 Trial is’s available now. You can buy it for 50% off if you win NaNo or 20% off if you participate in NaNo. So if you’ve always wanted to try it but found it too expensive here’s your chance to try before you buy.

There is also a Facebook Support Group for Scrivener if you have any trouble. They are quick with answers and support.

And for someone who prefers freeware, try yWrite6.

I’ve tried both until I bought Scrivener after NaNo2015. There’s a learning curve, but it is worthwhile.

You got any freeware or trial apps I might like. Leave a link and why you like it in the comments.

81 responses to “Toolbox 6: How I found my lost Scrivener files and 65k of work

  1. I read on another bog that Scrivener will only save so many backups and then starts saving over old ones. I do not remember what blog it is had been a bit since I read it. May want to check that out just in case. I hope it is not true but I remember reading that and meant to check out but never did. Your post reminded me. So happy you found your backups. Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

    • It does. The writer can set it up from 3 to 25 for each project then it saves over them. Don’t forget the Snapshots. The writer can take as many of these as they like.

  2. I love reading problems with happy endings. I’d like to say I’ve read one too many horror stories about Scrivener but I have my own with Word. Good thinking!

  3. Phew! I’m glad you were able to get the files working again. After a ransomware incident a few years ago, I’ve been obsessed with backing up my work in various forms.

    • Yeah, I did this to myself. Backing up after every writing stint would have been he wisest choice. I got lazy and paid for it.

      Sorry about the ransomware incident. That must have sucked. :-/

  4. So happy you figured it out. You are a persistent woman, Good for you! I had a scare this summer after a computer update too. Thankfully my computer nerd guy found a program that was broken, so I didn’t lose any of my files. It was a wake-up call to always, always, back up. Hmmm, maybe I should do that right now while thinking of it.
    JQ Rose

  5. Whew! I can imagine the panic you might have experienced because stuff like this has happened to me and that heart-thudding that does not stop until the problem is solved is pretty distracting, isn’t it? But it’s good to see your resilience pulled you through. I do not use anything other than plain ol’ MS Word but I’m sure this share will act as a good warning for many here.

  6. Wow! I know the panic of losing my work thanks to tech just too well. I’m glad you were able to recover it 🙂

  7. I was, honestly, totally riveted by your journey to recovering your work. I’ve never used Scrivener myself (I don’t really write stories that require much research or are very complicated, if I’m honest), but I know that it can be so useful. Kudos to you for your perseverance!

  8. Whew! Just…whew!

    I keep starting to play with Scrivener then stop due to various distractions and reasons. It seems like such a good program, and I know so many people use it and love it. Must give it another try! 🙂

  9. Yikes! I remember back when Windows first came out, if you were working in Word when the power went out, you’d lose everything if you hadn’t saved. I got in the habit of Control +S every two seconds. I’m pretty compulsive about it even today! But I didn’t even think about what would happen if I restarted without closing. I know my Mac refuses to shut down until I close Word and Excel…but it’ll close all internet windows and open them exactly where they were when restarting. I have a feeling what you described is exactly why it won’t let me close–maybe it doesn’t have the ability to reopen Word/Excel for 100% sure without losing something? I tried Scrivener…really tried to like it. I think 20 years of writing books in Word just makes it impossible to change!

    • Yeah Apple has it advantages. Definitely made for the creative mind. I’ve been using Windows for as long as I’ve had a computer. Mostly because I could afford it.

      As far as Scrivener goes–stick with what works. Confession time: I use Word for the final revision. 🙂

  10. Great post! I lost a Scrivener project last summer, and I was not as persistent or successful at solving it. I’m so glad to hear you had a better outcome! 🙂

  11. eek. I always have a panic attack every time I update any software. I’m so glad you recovered your project

  12. Glad it all worked out for you. I’ve heard similarly frightening/stressful Scrivener stories, so I always print out hard copies of chapters when I finish them in Scrivener. Just in case.

  13. I’ve heard several stories about people losing Scrivener work. Hopefully a lot of users will read your post!

  14. A constant learning process and I’m glad about your HEA. 🙂
    sherry @ fundinmental

  15. I have a Time Machine backup set up on my laptop and I’ll periodically plug it in to backup my stuff. I use Word though. Your post just seems SO stressful.

  16. I would have to kill myself if I lost 65K words. You certainly seemed calm about it and very resourceful to figure out what to do. I use Scrivener and I back up both on Carbonite and I have a separate hard drive back up. As writers, it’s hard enough to get our muse musing. But once written, I cannot imagine having to try and recover what was already written. Like I said, I’d have to kill myself!

    Thanks for the tips!

  17. What a humbling post Anna. I could feel the panic and anticipation right along with each word. I am so happy it worked out ok. 🙂

  18. Always love a good HEA, in books, movies and real life. 😉 Sounds like you are doing really well with your writing Anna!

  19. Great post! Thank goodness everything worked out! I would have been panicking like crazy!

  20. Oh the dread… but sooo glad you were pernicious and got into your files and research afterall. Good advice, too.

  21. Recently I had a similar issue with my phone deleting photos because OneDrive is a horrible program. I thought they were gone, but I discovered a magical program that saved them. It really is amazing what can be recovered… although sometimes, you are flat out of luck. (Always make sure the auto-backup function on your Word docs is working! It will say so on the bottom of the draft.)

    • Right. I watch that little green line go by regularly. When it comes to photos I have copies on every thing I own–desktop, laptop, tablet and phone. So afraid I’ll lose my little treasures. 🙂

  22. Yikes! Ice in your veins is correct. There’s nothing scarier (okay, one or two things) than losing your WIP. So glad you could restore it.

  23. Thank the pUniverse that you found your lost work. I did not have much luck with Scrivener, but Word has its own issues. I picked up the habit through work writing of backing up every paragraph or so to a hard drive and flash drive, and have carried that over to my fiction. It’s a pain, but when I read stories like yours, reminds me that it’s worth it.

  24. You have my sympathy. That is not an experience I would wish upon anyone, though it sounds like you came out stronger.
    It’s funny, among all the posts I’ve heard about world-builder’s disease or spending too much time outlining and developing ideas, I’ve yet to hear anyone talk about the issue of spending too much time backing up files and printing out hard copies just in case. Then again, is there such a thing as too much backing up?

  25. I’m so glad everything worked out for you! Thanks for sharing 🙂 I’m still trying to navigate my way around the different features of Scrivener.

  26. Things like this confuse me–or maybe it’s a matter of lack of patience with tech stuff.

    Glad it worked out well for you. I’ve already walked away from one thing today because of frustration. I’ll go back tomorrow I guess.

    Tossing It Out

  27. Hi! Glad to see a happy ending! I don’t use Scrivener. But sometimes I can’t find that one piece of paper I rewrote a scene on 🙂

  28. I had a similar scare although only 8-10k words, Sadly without your happy ending:
    Now I acknowledge that the following is a mistake on my part, but it’s frustrating as hell. Because for all intents and purposes, I have, as far as I can tell, permanently lost these 8-10k words. 
    Returning home I looked over the project on the Ipad and closed it. It is set to save and sync to Dropbox on closing. I then opened the project on my laptop, which reads the file on Dropbox on opening, and I noticed that the two scene concepts (the majority of the work) were not appearing where they should. There was no sync warning, no error message. I closed the project on the laptop so I could open it again on the iPad and check to see what was happening. Everything was in the correct place on the iPad, so again I closed the project, thinking this time it would sync correctly. 
    It didn’t, it still wasn’t showing on the laptop. 
    I noticed then, that the iPad was in airplane mode (completely my bad) and so syncing of any kind was not possible. 
    I switched off airplane mode and closed the project. It appeared to sync, so I checked on the laptop. My newest files were not there. Starting to worry a little at this point, I went back to the iPad and opened Scrivener. Opening my project I was met with “Sync issues have been resolved” message, to which the only response available is to hit ok. My files were then missing from the Ipad too. 

    Over the last couple of days I have had technical support from Apple, Dropbox and LiteratureandLatte (the Scrivener devs) who helped me look for my files. Dropbox tells me that the new files never reached as far as Dropbox – an extensive check on deleted files, and version histories came up with nothing. 
    Apple tells me that although Scrivener has icloud switched on, it is over a year since I have backed up to it (I’ve been using external hard disks, and Dropbox instead). LiteratureandLatte showed me how to open the scrivener package and go through the .rtf files to find what I was looking for. This was painstaking since there are thousands of files in the project which sits at 883k words at the time of writing this. They also suggested I could use one of the Scrivener’s back up files to look through. My Scrivener preferences are set to save 5 previous backups, but the oldest of the 5 was taken after the mistake was made, so the backups do not show the missing work.

    m awaiting one final response from The Scrivener Devs, but it looks like they have got to the point of no longer being able to help, and are waiting for me to accept that the work is lost. 
    It’s not the end of the world, I remember roughly what the scene concepts are, but it is the notes I made that are really hard to lose. I hate losing an Idea because I was out driving or distracted somehow and couldn’t get the thought down before it was gone, but to lose it after having written it down is even more frustrating. I have trusted and continue to trust Scrivener, I will, however, be very careful about writing when I am away, with the tablet for portability. I think, I will write under a new and seperate project each time, so that when I get home, I can cut and paste it across manually. I have set Scrivener to keep the maximum backups now of 25, I have backed up my entire project under a separate project name, and will be much more focused should I need to sync anything in the future. 
    KJ Clarke

    • What a heart-wrenching experience and good solution. I had something similar happened to notes from a conference (on my android tablet). One minute they were there then they disappeared. Since then, I’ve emailed copies of any work I do on my tablet. The fix is clumsy but it works. 😉

  29. Such a great outcome and good tips for other Scrivener and Dropbox users! I use Scrivener and really like it.

  30. I lost and wrote off around three files, or parts of files, before realising the steps you’ve outlined here. All by trial and error and restraining my urge to throw my laptop at the wall. But I wouldn’t be without Scrivener. When you know how it works it’s really difficult to lose anything, even harder to lose everything. Mine backs up all the time into a folder I keep in a file named Scrivener where I also keep my projects. Good idea about keeping a note on what to do when things do go wrong though. I should so that. Glad you got there in the end. Losing our hard work is heart breaking.

  31. I’m so glad you managed to salvage your work! I’ve been thinking about trying Scrivener for ages, I’m taking part in Nano so fingers crossed I win and then I’ll probably buy it 🙂 Thanks for the tips!

  32. Wow, that sounds brutal. I don’t even quite understand how you retrieved your files, but I’m glad you were able to.

    I don’t think I would have had the patience.

  33. Victoria Marie Lees

    Oh. My. Gosh! I would be beside myself if this happened. I am SO glad things worked out for you. But you seem a bit more tech-intelligent than I am. Okay. A LOT more tech smart than I am. Thanks so much for sharing this info with us. And again, I’m glad you found your work. I would have lost sleep over this one.

  34. Dude, that sounds like a stressful time. I’ve had a few save issues, though I use yWriter. But I think the worst thing I encountered was the discovery that when I converted my file from the yw5 format to the yw6 one, I lost all my italics and ellipses past the first use of them, and I didn’t notice until after I got rid of the old format. Yeah, that was a lot of redoing work for me. Glad you got yours figured out!

  35. I wish you all the luck in the world in 2018 with submitting to agents. I’m sure you’ll land one. 🙂

  36. I am so impressed! Stubbornness does pay off and automatic back up is definitely a must. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  37. Pingback: Author Toolbox Blog Hop: A Year in Review – E.M.A. Timar

  38. I would have died. Then I would remember I frequently mail myself copies of my WIP. Grr. What a horror. So glad you restored them, even by accident.
    I checked my backup settings. Mine were under Preferences, and now I know where to find them.

  39. Pingback: A Novice Scrivener User Tries to Explain Scrivener

  40. Oh my gosh! I was just sitting here, on the verge of tears because I thought I had lost everything I wrote over the weekend — and my WiP gets its biggest page jump on weekends. I googled how to get back my lost work, after a botched dropbox update and up came your blog post. I have just found the rtf files — so, although I have to rebuild my scrivener files, I have everything that I wrote. Thank you thank you thank you.

  41. Scrivener does my head in. I really want to use it but my head doesn’t seem to understand it. I will keep returning to it though

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