Backing up your stories with Scrivener and Dropbox

As I have for the last six years (with one exception owing to being in India for the month), this year I am doing NaNoWriMo. The short version? I’m writing a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of November.

What would happen if my computer were to die on November 29th, just before I hit that goal after working so hard for it all month? Would I crawl into the fetal position and bawl my eyes out like a little baby?

Well, I might, actually, but not because of any work lost on my novel. Thanks to Scrivener and Dropbox, my novel is well in hand and quite securely backed up!

So, how do I do it? Step 1 is, of course, to sign up for Dropbox. (Use this referral link and we’ll both get an extra 500MB — more than enough to back up your story a hundred times over!) Make sure you install it, of course.

Step 2 is to install Scrivener. As of writing this, they have a 30-day trial (good for 30 days of actual use, so if you open it twice a week it’ll work for 15 weeks!), plus there’s discounts if you’re a NaNoWriMo participant, or a bigger one if (when!) you win. Oh, and there’s also a student edition, if you happen to be a student.

Okay, yeah, that was me cheaply extending the word count of this blog post. Hey, it’s November, cheap word count-boosting tricks are to be expected!

Here’s where the real magic happens: Open Scrivener, and from the Tools menu select Options; in the window that opens up, click on Backup on the left side. From here you can quickly and easily set up Scrivener to back up your entire project any way you like. I like to make a compressed backup every time I close Scrivener, and retain the last 5 backups.

To make it work with Dropbox, you’ll select your Dropbox folder (and, at least I strongly recommend, create a subfolder inside that for your Scrivener backups) for the Backup Location; you can find it easily by clicking Choose… and then selecting Dropbox from your Favorites on the left side of that Explorer window. (Sorry, Mac folks, you’re on your own to find it, but I don’t imagine it’ll be much more difficult for you.) Here’s how mine’s set up:

How easy was that? And if you install Dropbox on other computers, you’ll gain additional redundancy to your backups, since Dropbox will automatically download all your files onto each computer you install it on!

Update 17 Nov: After a particularly lengthy writing session, it occurred to me just how many words I had written that were not backed up, because Scrivener had not been closed. I’ve now gone back into the backup settings and turned on the option to make a backup with each manual save as well, so now I can quickly tap Ctrl-S and know that a fresh backup has just been made.

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  • Scrivener – indispensable
    Dropbox – highly useful, especially for linking Scrivener to IndexCard and WriteRoom on the iPad.
    Time Machine – the ultimate backup
    WD My Cloud – backup for Time Machine
    Sugarsync – backup for the most important stuff.

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  • Gabriele

    In order to use scrivener on my iPad, i saved it to my drop box folder. When going to open the dropbox folder on my iPad, it was saved as .zip and dropbox tells me it cannot open .zip-files. What shall i do?

    • Not having an iPad myself, I’m afraid I can’t help you there. Scrivener creates the backup in a .zip file to save space, but you can turn that off (uncheck “Compress automatic backups as zip files”), if that helps you in any way.

      I suggest heading over to Scrivener’s forums, I know there’s been discussions there about syncing to the iPad, so maybe some of the fine folks over there can help you out.

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  • Hi Kromey,

    thanks for pointing me to this post. I have just started using Scrivener for Camp NaNoWriMo and have still much of its functionality to explore. Connecting it with Dropbox makes a lot of sense, can’t believe I haven’t thought of it yet! Usually I back up my entire system with Time Machine, but since I’ve been writing on my laptop from anywhere else than home (where my backup drive is), I have rather neglected that recently.. :-s


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  • On a Mac you will find a Backup tab in Scrivener Preferences