A hard-drive crash. A single corrupted file. An inopportune Bluescreen of Death. Your rickety old 386 DOS-machine coughs up semi-colons and expires in mid-sentence.
Perhaps it happens after several hours of writing, wherein you have finally squeezed gold—GOLD dammit!—from your fingertips. The chapter you’ve been working on was near perfect. You are the next NYT bestseller, the next National Book Award winner.
Perhaps your computer crashes in the middle of your brilliant opus.
Perhaps you retire for the day, unaware that horror has spawned, try to open up your project the next day and bask in the glow of its brilliance, and find … you don’t find it at all. It’s gone, gone, GONE!
This is, of course, the Writer’s Worst Nightmare, right up there with that one where they call your name to the podium to accept your Hugo/Nebula/Booker Prize/Oscar and you realize you’ve forgotten to put on clothes.
I’m here to offer you a way to make that nightmare go away forever. I use a couple of tools that are useful in and of themselves, but together, form an ironclad system for saving your work, susceptible only to nuclear apocalypse or alien invasion.
Dropbox—Dropbox is a service that lets you save all your documents in a regular-looking folder on your computer. The Dropbox folder acts like every other folder on your computer, except that all those files sync to all the devices linked to your account, computers, phones, tablets, etc. You can access your work from anywhere.
Your work is also saved on the Dropbox website, and here’s one its most valuable features: from the Dropbox website, you can access previous versions of your files. In effect, it saves your work at every step along the way.
Basic Dropbox is a free service, up to 2 GB. This is plenty of space for basic writer stuff, and I used this alone for several years until I finally outgrew it. For $9.99/month, you get 1 TB of storage space.
Scrivener—If you’ve been around writerly circles much, you’ve probably heard of Scrivener. Maybe you’re using it already. Developed by Literature and Latte, Scrivener is a writing package that focuses on the creative and organizational aspects of writing. It works on a different philosophy than MS Word, so each has its strengths and weaknesses. I still use both, but for different things. Scrivener, however, is what I use for creative writing. It’s so versatile that I’m still learning all the features, but here’s the part that’s relevant to this discussion.
Scrivener basically saves your work by the keystroke.
By the keystroke.
Dropbox + Scrivener = Nightmare-free Writer Dreams—Perhaps you’re starting to see the usefulness here when these two beauties are synergized (that’s my 50-cent word for the day). Put your Scrivener project files into Dropbox, and your work will be constantly saved by the keystroke, and automatically backed up to the Dropbox cloud in real time. This work also syncs whatever devices you connect, simultaneously.
But what if your file gets corrupted?
With Dropbox saving multiple versions of your files, you can restore previous versions, which minimizes the damage file corruption can cause.
If you’re averse to Scrivener, even saving your Word files in Dropbox helps minimize the damage caused by corrupted files. You can customize how often Word autosaves in the Options menus.
This combination once saved me about a week of work on a novel, which in other circumstances would have been lost. I was able to go to previous versions of the files in Dropbox and recover the version where three chapters had not been mysteriously eaten.
About the Author: Travis Heermann
Travis Heermann’s novel Spirit of the Ronin, will be published in June, 2015.
Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind, The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the science fiction MMORPG, EVE Online.
In 2015, he’s moving to New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and a burning desire to claim Hobbiton as his own.
You can find him on…
Another option is Google Drive. I use it in tandem with Scrivener to store my files online and offline. Great article! You can never be too careful with, as Dave Robison of the RoundTable Podcast puts it, literary gold!
Add the Editorial app to the mix, and you can write text when you’re away from your machine. I’ve written a lot through my phone during downtime, and this combination is stellar.
I use the exact same sequence, but use Box instead of Dropbox. Similar, but I like the security settings better on Box. The realtime sync between different devices is facilitated by the partner app called Box Sync. I love this solution. I can work on either of my computers and the files are shared realtime.
It’s still recommended to do regular backups. I use Mozy to back up my files online and also do periodic backups to external hard drives.
I agree of course, because I don’t think I could write anything longer than a grocery list without Scrivener. I didn’t realize it could synch at the keystroke level. Thanks for teaching me something new. I’ve used Dropbox and it’s very convenient.
One useful trick is to go to Scrivener’s Preferences-Backup and check Turn on Automatic Backups. I also check:
Backup on project close
Compress automatic backups as zip files
Use date in backup file name
Only keep 10 most recent backups
And have those backups stored in a Dropbox folder.
That stores my ten most recent major edits dated to make recovery easy.
–Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride
I had a MAJOR problem with Dropbox and Scrivener–where the newest file didn’t show up with the newest version in it. I thought I was going crazy for a while with changes vanishing, but I finally figured out if you ZIP the file before saving it to Dropbox, that fixed it.
@Rowan WorthSaving the backup as a ZIP is a great idea, because it can be difficult sifting through Scrivener’s file structure. I’ve had to reconstruct from conflicting files.
Well said 🙂
I use Dropbox and Scrivener, but not together. I recently had the blue screen of death and while I had my Scrivener files backed up in One Drive, it was a mess getting everything figured out. Nothing had the file names I had given them so I had to go through each file and open it to see what was there before I imported it back to Scrivener. I also lost the template I had just finished customizing. Still trying to get that figured out. May start saving my Scivener files to Dropbox rather than One Drive.
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Great ideas in this post. Thanks for the warnings about Google Drive. I’ve been using Dropbox to sync with Scrivener ever since I first downloaded the software back in 2014. So far—knock on wood—no problems whatsoever.
Here’s my process. (I use a MacBook Air, so if you use Windows you might be able to find a similar solution)
– Keep the main file you’re working from in Scrivener on your computer, NOT the cloud.
– Set up Scrivener to backup as .zip to your a Master Scrivener Backup folder on your computer, NOT the cloud. (This folder is for keeping multiple backups of various works you’re doing in Scrivener.) That way, all your files are in their original format without having to worry about being lost in translation—or, in this case, synchronization. I set it up to save every 5 backups, but you could change this in Scrivener’s Preferences.
– Choose a folder to keep ALL your Scrivener backups in.
– Create a folder in Dropbox to sync this folder to.
– Download MacDropAny: http://www.zibity.com/macdropany.html. This is the important part that saves so much time and hassle—automatically, no less.
– Set up MacDropAny to sync your offline/local folder to the one on Dropbox. MacDropAny makes this process so easy and literally takes seconds to set up.
Now, when you close Scrivener (if you’ve enabled backups to save when closing, manually saving, etc.), it will place the backup in your local computer’s folder, which will then sync automatically to Dropbox via MacDropAny.
Tip: Every once in a while, when I’ve accrued a significant amount of backups in various stages of development, I copy them to a different folder FOR THE SPECIFIC WORK. In other words, the Master Scrivener Folder I referenced above holds ALL the recent backups for ALL my works, while this folder only holds the backups for THAT SPECIFIC WORK, be it a novel, short story, blog post, etc.
This way, I have the most recent backups synced to Dropbox and ALL backups for each specific work copied to their respective folders. It’s a lot of backups to keep up with, but I usually don’t have to worry about touching the specific backups once I’ve copied them.
From there, if I need to open a backup on my second computer, a Mac Mini (Mid-2011), I copy the most recent .zip backup file from Dropbox to the computer and unarchive it. This places the actual .scriv file on my computer. I work on this as long as I need to, then Scrivener backs it up like I’ve noted above. When I’m ready to continue the work on my main MacBook Air laptop, I do the same process: copy the most recent .zip file, unarchive/expand it, and now this acts as my “Active” Scrivener project.
It sounds like a lot, but it’s second nature when you get used to it. And I’m sure everyone’s process will be different. This is the one that works for me.
Hope this helps. Best of luck to everyone in your future writing—and syncing—endeavors.