Retrieving a Backup File in Scrivener

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by C.K. MacLeod

Can't open your Scrivener book file?

Not all is lost. Here's how to troubleshoot this problem.

Check for Updates

Lots of tech glitches can be solved by ensuring that your software is up to date. I use Scrivener for Windows, so to check for updates I go to Help, Check for Updates. Update your software and see if you can open your Scrivener file now. If you can't, it's possible that your file is corrupted, which means you'll need to retrieve a backup of that file.

Where's my backup file?

Scrivener can be set up to automatically back up your file to a location of your choice. I have Scrivener set to back up to Dropbox (which is in the cloud), but I can just as easily have it set to back up to a folder on my computer's hard drive, or to an external hard drive or memory stick.

If you have Scrivener set to automatic backup, your file will exist somewhere. Your first job will be to find out where your backup files are being stored.

Here’s how:

For the Windows version of Scrivener, go to Tools, Options, Backup. For Mac, go to Scrivener, Preference, Backup. You should see the directory in which your files are being saved:

Scriv backup

You can see that my files are set to back up to Dropbox. Once you know where your file is being stored, you can follow the path to retrieve it.

Open Your Backup File

Your next step is to open your backup file.

Note: Scrivener backup files are often saved as .zip files, which means they've been compressed to save space. You'll need to unzip that file before you can open it.

In Windows, I can right-click on a .zip file and then click on Extract All. For a Mac, you'll need to download software that will unzip your file. Mac user and Scrivener Coach Joseph Michael recommends Unarchiver.

Once the file is unzipped, I find the file with the .scriv extension and then double click on it to open it in Scrivener. You're now ready to resume writing.

Not being able to open a book file that you've worked hard on is a terrifying thing. Scrivener's automatic backup feature can offer you some extra insurance.

Image by Carlos Luz

18 thoughts on “Retrieving a Backup File in Scrivener”

  1. All of mile files auto saved by Scrivener is a .backup or .autosave //// My windows 7 will not open these file extensions and I cannot find a program that will. So autosave doesn't do much for me:( really super frustrating!!!

    1. That would be frustrating. Does this still happen after you've unzipped the file? You need to unzip the backup file to access the file with the .scriv extension. When you click on the .scriv file, it should open in Scrivener.

    1. Oh, no! How frustrating for you, Michael. At this juncture, I'd recommend the Scrivener Users group on Google+. I do remember there being some discussion about this issue. You can search the archives or post your question to the group. I find them to be enormously helpful and there's not a lot of wait time for responses. Best of luck! See you over there.

  2. I accidentally deleted the entire file off of my flash drive. Is there any way I can recover it at all? I've tried various file backup programs to restore all of the files from the flash drive but when I try to open it, the recovered file says it's exceeded the volume or something and cannot be recovered completely. Is there any hope?

    1. Emily,
      Which Scrivener file is on your flash drive? Your project file or your back-up file? If you have one of these files, in a location other than your flash drive, there's hope!

  3. how fantastically useless of Scrivener to back up the files, but then to make them inaccessible. I had exactly the same issue as the person above: backups that I cannot open. Really disappointing that something as basic as that doesn't work, and lots of work seems to be lost.

    1. It is pretty frustrating until you figure out where your project file is saved. Trust me, I've been there (but only once). Have you been able to resolve the issue with the information in this post? If not, you could contact the folks at Literature & Latte. I've found them to be quite helpful.

  4. I accidentally deleted part of a chapter in Scrivener. I have located the backup file of the previous backup, but I'm afraid to open it for fear of overwriting my current work. How do I open ONLY the subfolders that I erased, or where do I open the file so I can access it without "restoring" the whole book. Seems like a silly little thing...but I would love your help!

    1. Elaina,
      Rename the back-up file you have so that there's no fear of overwriting your current working file. Locate the chapter you want from the backup file, and copy the text from that chapter and paste it into a new "file" or chapter into your current working file.
      Best of luck! 🙂

  5. Hi
    My laptop battery ran out suddenly, no warning. I was working on a chapter and when I came to open the project again a Project Document Loader window with a big scary red X popped up, and said "could not open file..." But after clicking OK it did open. I discovered the chapter I was working on had completely gone - not just what I'd been working on for the last 4 hours (til 2am with a big glass of whisky and lots of enthusiasm), but the whole bloody thing! Saved from ages ago. the only thing to survive was a snapshot I took just prior to starting the work session.
    I saved a version as was and tried to reopen but the same message popped up. Then, I managed to open the original version of the project without any scary warning, but when I opened the "lost chapter", the warning box popped up again.
    I read online that sudden power loss can cause corruption to files in use at the time - which would explain the problem. But does that mean I can't retrieve any of the work I did in that 4 hour (really exciting, productive, excelling) session of work?? What happened to autosave?!
    And can I just carry on with the version I have if I just delete the corrupted chapter?
    It told me to "restart scrivener" - is this different from just launching it from the desktop icon?! Me no nothing.
    (Knew I should have stuck to LibreOffice!!)

    1. Wow, Sarah. I'm so sorry. How frustrating for you. I'd suggest consulting the Scrivener forum to see if anyone has encountered the same problem. You can also contact the Literature & Latte directly. I find they're pretty good at answering queries.

      Do you have Scrivener set to back up upon closing the program? That might account for the loss of your work when your battery died. I have my version set the same way, so while working in Scrivener, I tend to hit the keys Ctrl + S often (the shortcut for save -- I think it's Command+S on a Mac). I find that these saves will stick. That won't help you with your current situation, but it might prevent future losses.

      Best of luck!

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