Storing and Organising Projects

Scrivener is foremost a project-oriented tool. While database style software often only lets you have one database to work with at a time, Scrivener allows you to create and work with many projects, even simultaneously. As such, it's important to keep your projects organized in your computer's file system to avoid losing or corrupting data.

A Scrivener project is stored on your hard drive either as a file (on Mac) or a folder (on Windows):


It's important to note that while a Scrivener project may look like a single file on the Mac, it is actually a package file. This file type looks and acts like a single file, but contains many important subfolders and files that are necessary for the project to function. Similarly, on Windows, while you'll only be interacting with the .scrivx file inside the project folder, keep in mind that the whole folder makes up the project. It must move together, and be copied together when making backups.

Live Projects vs. Backup Copies

The ".scriv" file or folder is what we refer to as the "live project". It is the package of files that Scrivener is interacting with and updating whenever you open your project in the program. You should only ever have one live copy of each of your projects at one time, to avoid getting confused about which copy contains your latest work.

Automatic Backups

In case something should happen to your live project, Scrivener has a built-in automatic backup feature which ensures that you always have backup copies of your projects to recover work from. By default, Scrivener will create a backup each time your project is closed, saving it to the archive location noted in your Preferences/Options under the Backup tab. This works on a rotating basis to save hard drive space, meaning that each time a new backup is created, it will overwrite the oldest one. The number of automatic backups you can store at one time range from 3 to 25, and you can adjust these settings at any time in your Preferences/Options. You can also force a backup at any time via File ▸ Back Up ▸ Back Up Now.

Manual Backups

We also recommend continuing to keep your projects backed up manually, even with an automatic backup system around, as intentionally created backups in a separate location will give you further redundancy, and keep important milestones from "rolling off" the backup list if they get too old. To create a manual backup, simply navigate to File > Back Up > Back Up To... and select a location outside of your automatic backup folder to save the backup copy.

Remember backups aren't just for when your computer fails you, they are also for when a you realise something isn't working out with a particular narrative, and you'd like to go back to an earlier revision. If you need to recover work from a backup for whatever reason, please see our instructions for restoring your work from a backup.

For more information on backing up your Scrivener projects, see our article on best backup practices.

Where to Store Live Projects

You'll want to ensure your live projects are stored in an accessible location on your hard drive, or in a compatible cloud drive like Dropbox (though please see our recommendations for using Scrivener with cloud-sync services if you choose the latter option). You should not:

  • Keep live projects on an external drive. The exception to this is if you plan to compress the project into a ZIP file before placing it in on the drive, transfer it from the drive to your computer whenever you want to work on it, and unzip it once you've done so. This is a bit of a pain, so if you're only using the external drive because you're worried about your hard drive crashing (and taking your work with it), you're probably better off storing your backups on the external drive instead.
  • Keep live projects in the same location as your automatic backups folder. If you do this, you risk your live projects being overwritten by the rotating backup process. Scrivener will warn you with an error message if you happen to be opening a project from within the backup folder -- make sure to heed the warning and remove your project from that folder immediately.

Other than that, however you choose to organize your projects is up to you. You might like to keep your projects scattered across your Documents folder, or organized into folders according to their kind. You might have a folder called "Writing" and subfolders within it called "Poetry", "Non-Fiction" and "Ideas", or you might keep all of your projects in a single folder called "Scrivener Projects". Whatever works best for you.

Save vs. Save As...

Scrivener autosaves your work as you go, so you don't have to worry about saving manually. If you ever do want to force a save, you can do so via File ▸ Save, but not File ▸ Save As.... The Save As... option does not overwrite the original copy of the project with the latest changes, but rather creates a whole new copy. This means if you are using Save As... each time you want to manually save your project, you will be creating multiple copies of your live project, which is sure to cause confusion down the line when you are searching for the copy project with the latest changes. Thus, Save As... should be reserved for situations where you would like to change the save location of your project, rename the project file, create a copy to send to someone else, or create a new copy to distinguish it from an old "version" of your work. In any case, be sure to deal with the original copy, perhaps by moving it to an archive location or appending the file name with something like "OLD VERSION" and a datestamp.

Version Control From Within a Project

It's also possible to keep track of different drafts, changes, and versions of your work from within the same project, so you can always have your old work on hand instead of hiding it away in archive files. See our article on revising in Scrivener for tips on making the best of Scrivener's built-in version control features.