The weak link in Scrivener’s armour

After breaking Scrivener for iOS with two massive project files, I vent my spleen about Scrivener’s biggest weakness.

| Articles | 3 min read

When I got my new iPad last week, one of the first things I attempted to do upon restoring everything from iCloud, was to synchronise my Scrivener projects via the Dropbox — the only approved cloud service Scrivener uses. In my projects directory I’ve got 12 years worth of work — novels, short story collections, and mammoth world-building and D&D notes.

Scrivener on iOS crashed repeatedly. In an attempt to remedy the problem, I force quit the app several times, and I even attempted to reinstall it three time. Neither solution worked. I had the idea it was the size of the projects, so like debugging a program, I removed all the projects from Dropbox, adding and syncing them one-by-one until until Scrivener choked.



Everything worked until I got to my world-building and D&D projects. These are very large in terms of the number of files within them. My D&D reference project contains the entire 5th edition Systems Reference Document, with each spell, monster, object and so on broken into individual files. There’s about 6,000 files within this project, and about 3,000 files in my world-building project.

I filed a bug report with Scrivener’s developer, and a couple of days later they kindly responded and confirmed my suspicions. Something has happened with the upgrade to iPad OS 13. The developers speculated that Apple has changed the way memory is allocated to apps during such operations. Basically, Scrivener (or the DropBox API) is choking hard, starved for system memory when attempting to process the thousands upon thousands of files in my collection.

The developers kindly made a few suggestions — manually copying projects to and from my iPad using iTunes (which is now dead on macOS Catalina1). Eventually, they hope to have a fix, but in the meantime I’ve opted to not to sync my world-building and D&D reference projects with iOS.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Syncing has always sucked with Scrivener and its iOS companion. I can’t sugarcoat it — it really sucks. It’s a manual process, that requires one to press a button to initiate the sync, at which point a modal window locks down the app and the sync takes place. If it worked 100% of the time, I could forgive the inconvenience, but it doesn’t.

Leaving aside the large project issue, and Scrivener’s syncing is prone to conflicts. If I’ve forgotten to shut down Scrivener on my Mac, or I’ve made separate edits on my iPhone and iPad and forgot to sync in the right order...or even when I thought I’ve done everything right. I often return to my Mac to find these alerts.

It’s really starting to chafe my arse, and it’s got me thinking…more on that in a later post. For now, I’ve removed my world-building and D&D files. Scrivener on iOS is working again for my novels, so that will do for now. However, the experience has left a nasty taste in my mouth, I’m open for a solution.

I am undecided how to manage my world building and D&D files from here. Migrating them would be a lot of work, but at the same time not being able to access them on my iPhone and iPad bothers me. I have some ideas, but again that is a post for another day.

Cover photo by Shaojie on Unsplash


  1. File transfer functionally is now in Finder. 

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