Fixing Sync Issues with Scrivener and Dropbox

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One of the more frequent complaints I’ve seen regarding Scrivener concerns problems with syncing files between devices. I ran into a problem with the file sync recently, and thought I’d share what I encountered—and how I resolved the issue—with you.

Until recently, I only had one machine, so I didn’t really have to worry about sharing files. And my experience with Dropbox was from a backup point of view, so I never encountered a conflict. That changed, however, when I purchased a second, smaller laptop for travel. Foreseeing the need to share files, I moved all my Scrivener, Scapple, Aeon, and Plottr files to Dropbox so I could access them from either laptop. And that’s when the trouble began.

Before we go any further, I should give you some specs on my laptops and my setup, because my experience might not match yours. But just in case in does…

Configuration and Storage

The two laptops I’m using are both MacBooks:

  • Old Laptop (aka BigMac): 15-inch MacBook Pro with Big Sur OS and an Intel chip
  • New Laptop (aka MacJr): 13-inch MacBook with Monterey OS and the M1 chip
  • Both computers have the same release version of Scrivener 3 on them.

Before setting up the traveling laptop (MacJr), the first thing I did was to back up all my files. Then I moved them to the big Dropbox account and changed my Scrivener preferences to point to a different external backup location. After that change, my storage plan looked like this:

  • Main files for book (Scrivener, Scapple, Plottr, Aeon, Excel, etc.) saved and synced to Dropbox.
  • Backup files saved to secondary Dropbox account (called Backup Location to minimize confusion).
    • Note: I have my Scrivener files configured to back up every time I close the file.

Trouble

The first time I tried to open a Scrivener file on my new computer, I got an error message. It said something to the effect of “The file seems to be of an older format. It may be missing or corrupt or there might be a synchronization issue. [some other stuff…] …try restoring from a backup.”

Cue the panic! My entire novel, ready for copyediting, wouldn’t open since I moved it to the cloud.

Luckily, I’m a stickler for backups and was able to work through what I needed to do in order to get that first file working.

Flash forward a month and I’m preparing for a conference in three weeks when I realize NONE of my other Scrivener files are opening on the new machine. What’s going on? Apparently, it wasn’t a onetime fluke. And, honestly, I’m confused because both machines have the same version of Scrivener down to the same release. The icons, however, look different on my new machine. So weird.

The Fix

After some trial and error, I worked out a process to get my files updated to a version that both laptops liked. Here’s what I did:

  • Confirm backup
    • Look for the most recent backup of Scrivener file in the Backup Location
    • If that backup file is not as new as the working Scrivener file, open the Scrivener file on the old laptop (BicMac) and make a backup. (File > Backup > Backup now)
    • Close the Scrivener file.
    • Wait for everything to finish syncing!
      • If you’re using Dropbox or OneDrive, a syncing symbol will appear on top of the Dropbox/OneDrive icon. When it disappears, the sync is complete and you can proceed.

  • Extract Scrivener file from new backup
    • Find the new backup file in the Backup Location and right-click it.
    • Select Quick Look “filename”.
    • Click Uncompress in the pop-up window to save a copy of the Scrivener file in the Backup Location folder.

  • Move extracted Scrivener file to Dropbox
    • In your Dropbox folder where your working Scrivener files are, locate the existing Scrivener file that’s not working on both machines.
    • Rename it. (I added old_ to the front.)
    • From your Backup Location folder, drag the recently extracted Scrivener file to the Dropbox folder.
    • Wait for everything to finishing syncing!

  • Confirm and clean up
    • From the new laptop (MacJr), open the new Scrivener file from Dropbox to confirm it works, then close it.
    • Wait for everything to sync!
    • From the old laptop (BigMac), open the new Scrivener file from Dropbox to confirm it still works there, then close it.
    • Wait for everything to sync!
    • Once you’ve confirmed the new Scrivener file works on both machines, delete the old Scrivener file from Dropbox.

Conclusion

I’m not sure what went wonky when I moved these files, but backing them up and then extracting them seemed to fix the glitch. This may not work for your particular situation, but I thought I’d share just in case someone ran into a similar issue.

Some Additional Tips

Also, I want to point out a couple of things about Dropbox or any cloud storage solution that will help with file syncing:

  • Always wait until the files finish syncing before shutting down your device. That’s probably the number one way to corrupt a file.
  • Close your projects when you’re not working in them. Another way to introduce risk is to have a project open on two different devices.
  • Set your backups to occur automatically. I like mine to back up every time I close the file.
  • Manually check every so often to make sure the backups are working as expected.

Have you come across similar problems with syncing files to the cloud? If so, what solutions did you find that worked? Share below in the comments.


Happy writing and don’t forget to back up your files!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jennifer

    Thank you so much for writing this up. It’s unfortunate that Scrivener/Literature and Latte can’t write such a clear description of the problem and solution to it. I’m glad yours was here when I needed it.

    1. Lancy M

      You are so welcome! I’m happy it helped you.

  2. Iris

    Thank you so much for this article! This was a great help as I ran into the issue and your clearly written solution worked!

    1. Lancy M

      I’m so happy this helped! Also, thanks for the shout out on clear instructions.

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