Scrivener & Dropbox

I use the writing software Scrivener because the program is packed with features. Initially created as a project manager for novels, you also can create scripts and e-books. You can write in one font and compile your manuscript in another. You can easily write out of order, then drag and drop the files to change the story sequence. There are basically so many options that I’m constantly discovering new tools. (Click here to read my review.)

However, I’ve found a problem. It’s small, and I’ve figured out a workaround.

Multiple text documents create a single Scrivener file (known as a .scriv), which works like any other file until you use the cloud storage service Dropbox.

In your computer’s Dropbox folder, the files appear normal:

Notice how a .scriv looks just like the .pdf. However, when you go to the Dropbox website, the server does not recognize .scriv as a file. Instead, the site views it as a folder comprised of multiple files:

This becomes a problem when, like yesterday, I discovered that my couple-hundred-page manuscript had disappeared except for a single chapter.


I’m sure this was my fault; I must have accidentally overwritten the file. So I went to to restore a previous version of the book. But since Dropbox doesn’t properly recognize .scriv files, this feature was missing.

The image below shows the option I expected to find — which is only available for individual files, not folders:

I needed to find an alternative. Luckily, I was able to resurrect an old version from my Mac’s Time Machine. (This is why we constantly backup our files.)

Now, to avoid this problem in the future, I’ve set up an archive folder that I will manually update after each day’s writing. By selecting all the Scrivener projects in my Dropbox folder, I then compress them into a single .zip file:

Zips save space, and you can put multiple files inside. This way I keep accessible backups of each .scriv in the event this error repeats itself.

Scrivener is available for both Mac and PC, and Dropbox is a free web service. I definitely recommend both, and by properly setting up these applications, you can can avoid losing your hard-won writing as well as your sanity.


This is what I named my Time Machine hard drive:




  1. Jangari says

    Thanks for pointing this out. I was just reliant on Dropbox being able to backup and provide access to earlier copies, but wasn’t aware that it couldn’t correctly interpret the .scriv folders as files. But does Scrivener’s internal backup system (prefs > backup) take care of this so you don’t have to manually back up? I have dropbox as the default location for Scrivener to send backups to, so presumably they’re safe and I could restore from one of them in the entirely plausible scenario in which Dropbox loses my stuff.

    • says

      Great point about Scrivener’s internal backup system. Fortunately, those backups are .zip files, so Dropbox should read them just fine. I haven’t restored a Scrivener project this way and can only presume it works the way it should. Since I normally utilize multiple forms of backups for my writing, I’ll continue to manually archive my work, be happy that Scrivener provides additional backups, and regularly Time Machine my computer in case any one of these methods fail.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • says

      Jangari, I believe this is the default setting, but go to your Scrivener preferences > backup to make sure “compress automatic backups as zip files” is selected. That way you can be confident Dropbox will read them correctly.

    • says

      No, my auto backups are pointed to an ordinary folder on my computer’s hard drive. That way, if Dropbox (even if it could read the .scriv files) goes down, I have a hard backup. Then, if my computer ever goes down, I have the .zip files I manually created within Dropbox.

  2. Liz says

    Hi Daniel,
    Thanks for the post. I’m having a similar but different problem. I use a Mac as my desktop and a PC laptop. I have purchased and been using Scrivener for both systems. I use Dropbox to access both. At first I thougt it was a problem with Dropbox itself because earlier, it apeared that the MAC wouldn’t show the updated file from the PC. I am noticing however, that when I make changes on my mac, they don’t show up correctly on the PC. The date /time on the saved folder and file on the PC is correct, but when I drill down and open the file, the changes I made on my MAC don’t appear. I’m literally afraid to edit on my PC right now for fear it wil override what’s on my Mac.

    Any ideas?

    Thanks in advance.


    • says

      Wow, that seems like a compatibility issue between the Mac and PC programs. I’d contact Literature & Latte to ask them that question.

      In the meantime, I’d save a new copy of the file after every writing session (or email the file to yourself each time; that creates archived backups and lets you see if the problem reoccurs outside of Dropbox) because I, too, would be worried about overwriting my work. It’s annoying, but it’s better than reversing your progress.

      Let me know what works for you, Liz.

  3. Risa says

    I had a few documents disappear while I was splitting and merging and I have no idea where they went! I emailed their support team, but I am super stressing out right now!!! I have windows, I tried to open a backed up version that scrivener creates but it tells me I need “write permission” and I’m not sure what that means :-(

  4. Sandra Pirtle says

    I have had trouble working between three macs, with losing sections of my novel. Luckily I keep multiple backups. I archive at the end of each writing session and export the section I am working on in rich text format before starting work each day. I put copies of all of this in Cubby as well as Dropbox, but dropbox is my working cloud. I back up with supper-duper and timemachine. Paranoid? Yes, but I was glad to day, when I realized that about 1000 words was missing that I wrote a couple of days ago. I I searched the exported files, searching on a word that was unique to that section and found them!

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