Scrivener and Dropbox

I have two important tools that I use for writing, setting aside an internet connection, Spotify and Twitter. The first of these is Scrivener, software for writing and structuring writing, which allows me to easily break up and structure writing, as well as keeping details of background, characters, locations, loglines, pitches etc. It also has a pretty good scriptwriting mode for the writing of dramatic scripts.

The other tool I use is Dropbox, which not only backs up my documents to the cloud, it also keeps my myriad of computers in sync. This enables me to close an active Scrivener project on my home computer, open either my work or personal laptop and carry on working, nigh seamlessly.

However, as I discovered this morning, it is very important indeed to close the active Scrivener project and allow the sync to complete before re-opening the project elsewhere! In the past I’ve had minor inconveniences where I hadn’t closed down properly and Scrivener informed me the project was already open elsewhere. This was annoying if I wasn’t anywhere near the offending computer, but at least it was manageable due to Scrivener warning me of the problem.

However, sometimes the original computer doesn’t successfully sync, perhaps due to an unplanned shutdown or system crash. Since Scrivener is then not actively open on the original computer, it is then tempting to ignore the warnings on the second computer and re-open the project and sync changes back to Dropbox. When, however, the same project is re-opened on the original computer Dropbox isn’t sure which is the correct version and, in an attempt to avoid overwriting unsynced changes, saves copies of the files with the text ([computer name]’s conflicted copy [date]) appended to the filename.

Unfortunately, these conflicted copies can break Scrivener projects, which relies on files being in the right place. Scattered conflicted copies makes Scrivener think something is wrong and it refuses to load the project, claiming the project file can’t be found.

If you don’t have a recent full backup, here’s the way to correct this: Delete every conflicted copy. In some cases, if you have made different changes on different computers, you might have to decide which version of a file to keep in the Files/Docs subfolder, but other than that there should be no files named ‘conflicted copy’ remaining. You may find, if you have moved documents in the structure, that you have to re-move them, but that’s a tiny inconvenience, all your work is retained and nothing is lost. Once all the conflicted copies are deleted, you should find that Scrivener can load the project without problems

13 thoughts on “Scrivener and Dropbox

  1. Good post! I don’t use Dropbox myself–I’m a SugarSync guy–but have found similar challenges with that program. Keeping everything current is a challenge with anything in the cloud, and it’s easy to get conflicts between edits.

    One solution I’ve found with Scrivener is that you can run the program on a USB stick. The programmers don’t reccomend installing it to a flash drive, but if it’s on your PC you can copy the program folder to a flash drive and it’ll run on any computer with a USB port. Of course, you’ll still need to sync it to your home computer, but there are apps for that.

    • Ah, that would resolve some of my issues, but not one I hadn’t mentioned above: My personal laptop is a Mac. So using Dropbox and remember to close down properly every time will have to be my ritual.

  2. The trick is to copy the Scrivener project file to your local computer, work on it, close Scrivener, and then upload it back on your Dropbox folder. Never open Scrivener directly from your Dropbox account and edit it ‘live’.

    • I like to listen to music as I write and one of the pieces I’m working on actively involves music, so it becomes a necessity rather than a preference.

      Twitter keeps me actively sitting at the computer when I’m procrastinating, and followers provide support, encouragement and answer desperate pleas for editors or answer obscure questions.

      This was my first case of conflicted copies with Dropbox, and it was doubly important to solve it this time! I always try to make sure syncing is completed before closing anything down.

  3. After searching Google, this post really saved my bacon – thank you! I’d finally carved some time out for a bit of a manuscript sorting, restructuring and rewriting session only to find it wouldn’t open.

    You’ve made a tired person very happy 🙂

  4. Hi Stephan,
    I work with two macs. One macbook pro at home and another macbook air for campus and office. Mostly, I work with macbook air. I used dropbox with all my data. The problem is, if I close a project at my macbook air, the latest update doesn’t appear in my macbook pro, even though dropbox already said “up to date”. It is annoying because I usually left my macbook air at the office, and I can’t work. My macbook pro doesn’t get the last version of my scrivener file. Any suggestion ? thanks

    • Hi Fritz. I’ve had that as well in the past and what I had to do was make sure I fully exited out of Scrivener on one computer, then wait for Dropbox to finish syncing, then wait for Dropbox to sync on the second computer before opening Scrivener. The problem is one of file locking, and this circumvents the issue.

  5. I had the same problem at home – I have a NAS that offers a personal cloud and all my writing is there. Today I started on my Macbook then went back to my desktop and couldn’t work on the file. It was still ok on the Mac, I looked in the folder and found the conflict file. I just renamed the extension and all seems fine.

    Nice post – good explanation and it made me realise I hadn’t done anything too stupid!

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