This post is all about the importance of backing up your work in Scrivener and knowing where to find the saved backup files in your directory should it not appear in the actual project. Our story begins Wednesday evening when Denise, my friend and co-moderator from Pitches & Plots on Facebook, instant messaged me in a panic about some missing files in Scrivener.

What exactly transpired? Denise noticed a document and a couple of other files in Scrivener went AWOL. Obviously, she was frantic—as I would be—that she couldn’t find them within her project or anywhere else on her Mac. They were simply gone, poof, disappeared, out floating in the black hole of the interwebs, but were they?

Denise backs up compulsively and has her files on Mac’s Time Machine as well as in DropBox. One question that came up was how to extract those files from Time Machine and when was this version of the project exactly saved? But before we tackled that part of the problem, I knew that her files were somewhere on her computer in a hidden file, and we just had to find that main file

[Flashback time: the screen goes wavy and it’s two years prior to getting my MacBook Pro] 

I’m on the faltering HP laptop, and I discover that a few of my files have taken a gander into the ether. I am in full-on distress after spending so much time on Julius version 235 and now it’s GONE. After I calm down and gather my wits, I email the folks at Literature & Latte with the subject line, “HELP!” and proceed to explain this catastrophe.

Within a short period of time, I get an email telling me how Scrivener’s back up works and that it saves text files in my directory. So all I have to do is go into that directory  go to the Scrivener file and I will see the project file with text files. So I do that, and Phew! I wipe the sweat of anxiety with the back of my hand, and see the latest (and presumably last) version of my opus. For a full head-on explanation for Windows users check this NANWRIMO forum.

[Fade out. Back to the present]

On the Mac it’s a bit tricky. If you do a Spotlight search using the .scriv extension, you will find your current projects. Denise searched within the project and Mac and nothing turned up. I was skeptical the files were gone, so I went to the forums, and found the same answer that had been emailed to me two years prior.

During the Instant Message exchange, Denise mentioned Scrivener’s automatic back-up so I went to Scrivener’s preferences to double check if there was something we were forgetting (and we actually did forget a crucial element).

To check Scrivener’s automatic back-ups go to the menu bar, click on Scrivener=>Preferences. From there, click on the last icon on the right that’s labeled Backups.

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I haven’t changed Scrivener’s default settings, but you can play around with them. I don’t because I trust the programmers’ judgement of why they selected those settings. The section that says Backup Location shows the directory path of where those saved backup copies live. And here’s the tricky part: if you follow the path on the Mac, (and I suspect the most recent OS) you won’t find your Library or the Scrivener files because they are hidden. The gurus at Apple decided to hide the Library with the reasoning that you won’t fiddle around with the programs and screw things up.

I understand that logic, but when you’re trying to figure out where the hell  your backups are and you’re on the verge of an anxiety attack on a hot, humid night, you don’t want to dig around or email help desks, or search forums. You want those files NOW.

Of course, you do have the option to change that path to where you want to store the backups, but as I mentioned above I don’t want to change any of the defaults because I know that some things I shouldn’t fool with.

Back to those hidden files and how to find them. And here’s the genius of Scrivener, just click on the button that says “Open backup folder…”

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And there they are. The files are zipped and from there you open them the way you normally open zipped files.

It took Denise and me about 90 minutes to figure out where the files are located and a reminder that the Library is hidden. Of course, we could have saved ourselves the frustration if we had gone straight to Gwen Hernandez’s Scrivener For Dummies and read chapter 21: “Protecting Your Work with Automatic and Manual Backups.”

What’s the lesson here? First, buy Gwen’s book; second, read Chapter 21 first so right off the bat you know where you can find the backups and understand the mechanics of Scrivener’s backup system; third, always back up your work and use alternate forms of backing up whether it’s an exterior hard drive, a thumb drive, Google drive, Dropbox or the many other cloud alternatives that are available. Lastly, don’t panic. The files are there. On the other hand if your laptop is stolen and you have all your passwords, your tax returns, banking information, and social security number stored that’s when you should panic.


  • Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful tutorial! You balanced my utter panic with a nice side of humor and made me laugh over last week’s woes. This post should be bookmarked by every Scrivener user. I don’t care how often one backs up or to where, stuff happens, and when it does, these are directions we all want to read.
    Thanks for saving me, my friend. You are an absolute technology angel and software guru to boot! xxxd

  • I just had to give you a thank you for this.  I was losing my head from my shoulders when iCloud Drive completely botched a sync between computers and lost me days of straight work.  Definitely not using iCloud Drive anymore, hoooollly cow.

  • THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I could go on forever and ever and ever. But all I can say is thank you for this (If you haven’t guessed I found my files).