Methods using Curio 5

So, I found Curio 5 as I found Scrivener, through MacBreak Weekly, and I am curious as to how I can incorporate it into my writing workflow. After perusing the LaL forums I found many hits on Curio but most simply stated what the program was and not how it was being used by other writers. I tried my hand at the program itself and found the mind-mapping features useful (though not $99 useful!) and I worked out a kludgy method of plot-mapping (visually representing the plot lines and adding notes to each scene…) but I still don’t feel that this is worth the money. So, after a long rant, I finally get to my point: I would like to know how people on these incredibly helpful forums use Curio and what makes it worthwhile for them? Thanks in advance, and I look forward to your suggestions!


I don’t use Curio but I too am curious about it. I have looked it over a few times and I think it could potentially be fun and useful, but thus far the high price has deterred me. I have a tendency to buy shiny productivity apps and then under-use them (or just not use them), and I didn’t want to go down that road again, especially not for $100.

Hopefully someone here will be able to give insight into what sets it apart from similar programs.

Health warning: this is my own view - others may have different ideas.

Curio is for the brainstorming and data collecting stages of a writing project, plus some of the structuring and a bit of the project management.

Curio enables you to bang down ideas and arrange them later. Structure can “emerge”. In this it resembles Tinderbox, although Tinderbox is of course a much more complex and sophisticated outliner. But Curio is in some ways more versatile: not only does it have extra provision for searching for and storing data (unlike Tinderbox), but much of the information it presents (sketches, media, images, for example) is simpler to manipulate. If like me you want to see stills of locations and people as you play with structure, it’s straightforward to haul them down from an image bank and pin them to your Curio virtual wall, attached to nodes of your structure. If you really want to draw and scribble all over your ideas, a Wacom Bamboo and Curio will be enough. If you want to add deadlines to your writing without getting into the complexity of a project manager, Curio will let you do so.

It’s true that the software tends to be a jack of many trades, without being a specialist in any. But that may be all you need; it would certainly be cheaper than buying all its functionality application by application. It’s also true that it isn’t a drafting/composing application, so it won’t ever replace Scrivener. Think of Curio as a virtual whiteboard of unlimited size, or a potentially huge bank of virtual Post-Its.

And now if as seems likely, forumite Sean Coffee gets his way, a future update should replicate the index-card corkboard of fond Hollywood memory, adding another layer of versatility.

Could this writer use Curio?*

*Probably not - he likes his typewriters.

I’m one of those people to whom ideas come less than fully-formed — not so much as “ah ha!” moments as “why the hell am I thinking about that?” moments. It takes some work for me to wrangle a collection of images, ideas, themes, characters, jokes and bits of dialogue into something resembling a story. So I tend to adhere to Twyla Tharp’s concept of Boxes – creating a single repository for all the crap that’s on my mind when I’m searching for a story. I began with literal boxes – comic book longboxes, in fact, because I’m a nerd – but soon found them impractical (I travel too much, and coffee shops frown on people who walk in with a big-ass box full of paper and dump it on their floor. Plus, y’know, all that paper makes me feel guilty.)

So I started looking for software that could be one of those boxes – an application that would allow me to collect all of that stuff, dump it out on a virtual bed and look at it this way and that — all the while adding notes and sketches, nudging it all around until it began resembling a coherent thing.

I looked at Tinderbox first, mostly because the ever helpful AmberV had written about it so passionately in this forum. I also liked the idea that Tinderbox has a Way. I’m a sucker for Ways.

It took me an hour to understand that the Tinderbox Way is, in fact, Way more complex than I need it to be — and that AmberV is Way smarter than I am. Alas.

So I looked at Curio, which I soon found to be — like Scrivener — that rare breed of software that had exactly the features I was looking for, and several features that I would have been looking for, had I been more imaginative.

I liked that I could add notes, drawings, film clips, whatever to a space, and slide them around at will. I liked that, if a space got too messy or off-point, I could create another space within the same project and start clean (but still attached). I especially liked that I could take a PDF of a draft in progress, spread it out across several spaces in an organized way, and futz with it in chunks. And I loved that I could do it all in any way I wanted, utterly free-form… until I no longer wanted to be free form.

I relate the whole process to David Gray’s excellent ideas about napkin-sketching: when you’re drawing a picture, start with the big stuff first, then add the little stuff until you have a picture of, say, an elephant. Curio is my way of drawing an elephant that I’m not even sure is an elephant when I start – it allows me to start really, really big; it allows me to add the small stuff; and because it keeps track of everything for me, it makes it really easy for me to begin imposing some structure when it comes time.

Make sense? I’m not sure I gave you an actual workflow there, but I hope this inspired you to see how you might use Curio in your own way.

Some side notes:

Talk of index cards in this forum helped me see that Curio really was a modern, massively powerful version of the late, lamented ThreeByFive. Which led me to an attempt to turn text notes in Curio into index cards. Couldn’t do it, so I pestered Curio’s developer – the curiously one-named George, the Cher of Mac software – to add ThreeByFive functionality to Curio. Hugh and others chimed in, and it seems like George might actually do it! Woot, I say! If you’re a Curio user and want to add to the thread linked above, please do so. The L&L forum has a lot of people with very good ideas, and I’m sure your input would be invaluable (and it can’t hurt to bump the idea back to the top).

Curio is indeed a little pricey – it’s not at the Tinderbox level, but it’s up there. Be aware that there are some hidden, slippery-slope type costs as well. It won’t run on an old Mac – it needs Intel, and it needs RAM. It also led me to purchase a Bamboo pad, because I wanted to be able to sketch with some degree of control. So be forewarned.

Two recent developments have made Curio massively useable for me (again, beware that slippery slope!): The LiveScribe Pulse Pen + Evernote integration in Curio = an ability to put actual handwritten notebook pages into my Curio box. I can’t even begin to tell you how useful this has been.

@DanielParadise: I heard that Macbreak Weekly thing on Curio too. I’m glad that Leo made Curio a pick, and was very happy to hear him mention Scrivener. I totally disagree with his thought, though, that Curio might somehow replace Scrivener. Neither program quite works the way Leo (bless him) thinks they do. They are, instead, perfect complements.

I am beginning to notice a common thread when AmberV is involved.

There`s only one way to relate to the phenomenon who is, The Goddess of Code. Very simply: there is AmberV, and then there is everybody else.

Don’t you start that ‘fishing for compliments’-game, dude.
Your reputation, in it’s very own way, is as remarkable as hers.
But there are now specialists involved to break into your code, just wait and see.

Can someone tell me more about Curio and

a) the pulse-pen - is this a direct note taking feature I long for?
b) the Bamboo pad -what is this?

What do they do, do they work?



I’ve been going through something like what Sean Coffee describes so well and also find Curio remarkably flexible and helpful.

Two things though:

Curio is available with an educational discount that makes it affordable for students and the like.

It does require Leopard, but runs fine on my aging PowerPC G4 iBook (1.25 GB RAM)…i.e., it doesn’t require Intel.

I can’t answer your questions directly, but I can tell you that those items do not come with nor are they integral to Curio. I believe they are add-ins to your Mac that can augment how you input information into Curio.

I think Hugh and SeanCoffee did a good job explaining Curio. I’d just add (or emphasize) that Curio’s strength is its versatility. You can use it for outlining, mind-mapping and task management. It doesn’t do any of those things better than dedicated applications, but it does them well enough in most cases.

Mostly I see Curio as a space for thinking and planning.

But, I’d say that if you download and try Curio and you don’t instantly feel that it will be helpful to you, then you probably don’t need it.


The Pulse Pen is a digital pen that allows you to input handwritten text or scribbles into your Mac (and into Curio). All you need is the pen and special paper. You may write or sketch on the paper while away from your computer; all your input is recorded in the pen - and transferred to your Mac when you connect the pen to your Mac. More here:

The Bamboo pad is an inexpensive tablet plus digital pen that records input (writing or sketching on the tablet) and transfers it to your Mac. In contrast to the Pulse Pen, the Bamboo tablet has to be connected to the Mac while you write or draw. Wacom ( offers a number of different Bamboo tablets and larger tablets (used mainly by graphical artists and image editors).

Hope that helps,

Thanks, Franz. Does the Bamboo work directly in Curio (or Scrivener)?


In Curio you can use the pen for writing, sketching and for pointing and clicking (like a mouse).
In Scrivener you may use the pen as a mouse replacement.



a) The Pulse Penis a pen that records your pen strokes as you write, and allows you to upload those notes to your PC. It also provides audio recording, and it ties those recordings to your notes. When you touch your pen to a note you’ve made at any time in the past, it plays back the audio that was being recorded when you wrote that note. The site linked above has lots of video that explains how it all works. Please note, it requires you to use their notebooks. But, as I think I said before, I’m pretty much a Moleskine/Rhodia notebook snob, and I’ve found the Pulse pen’s notebooks to be more than satisfactory.

One aspect that I don’t think the site hits hard enough: The Pulse Pen software keeps track of your notes page by page, notebook by notebook – a feature I love. It doesn’t just store everything as a big sheaf of digital paper. I currently have an active notebook for my writing notebook, and for a house-hunting notebook. Just to give you a real-world example: We recently bought a house, and I took the Pulse pen with me during the inspection. I was able to take notes on everything that needed to be done to the house, and have a two-hour recording of everything the inspector said to me – all tied to my notes. So when I was up on the roof and couldn’t easily jot down notes, I just wrote the word “ROOF” as a bookmark. Now, when I hit ROOF on the page, it plays back everything the inspector said.

b) The Bamboo pad is Wacom’s entry-level input tablet. I’ve found it to be quite useful in adding sketches and handwritten notes to documents. I also like more than a mouse for editing on screen.

Anyway, you don’t need either one to use Curio. I was just saying that both tools really enhance the Curio experience. The same is true with Evernote, whose service is integrated into the Curio interface.

As for Curio itself, go here and take a look at their video tutorials. They tell you everything you need to know. (Try to get past the fact that they call them “Tutorinis” – I don’t know what that’s all about either.)

@Vermonter: I disagree with the word “instantly”. It took a few weeks of fiddling with the Curio demo before I figured out that it was exactly what I was looking for. Their demo time period, as I recall, is fairly generous, and there’s an option to extend it if you need more time.

Brilliant. Thank you both very much.

It’s also well worth using the academic discount if that is available to you. :smiley:

Regarding the SmartPen:

Are the notes that you scribble on the dotted paper actually searchable after you have transferred them to your Mac, be it in Curio or any other aplication, or are they mere images? Not having the hardware I cannot test this and the videos are a bit vague about this.
If OCR is involved: does this work outside the application that comes with the SmartPen, i.e. can you export WITH the invisible text layer?


The Pulse Pen software has no OCR for Mac as of yet, nor does Curio. So no, your handwritten notes will not be searchable.


If you need handwriting recognition, the Paperium Digital Pen might be the right solution: Technically, it is comparable to the Pulse Pen but there is also a handwriting recognition software available.

However, Paperium is an Austrian company. I do not know whether the Paperium products are available outside of Austria, Switzerland and Germany. At least, their website is in German and in English.

More on Paperium: … anguage=en


If you do any writing/composition that is inherently visual, Curio is invaluable. I’ve used it for sketching out presentations, and will probably use it for some graphic essay-like projects I have coming up. It’s also useful for visual reference: I’ve used it to store all the images related to an article in one place, for example.

For more general use, some writers use collages of images relevant to their work – settings, people, physical objects, etc. – and Curio is an excellent tool for that.

I think it started out as a tool for graphic designers and has been gradually adding more general brainstorming tools. I use it enough to be glad I have Curio 4, but not enough to upgrade to Curio 5.