I used “rough books” in my schooldays. The idea was that children would take notes in their rough work book during a class and then transfer this new knowledge in a more polished form to their subject exercise books later. Of course the rough book would also get filled with doodles, various stains and games like hangman —especially during double physics.Any exercise book or notebook will do the job, but you can still buy Rough Work Exercise Books with 60 gsm paper in the UK for a quid each from The Paper Warehouse. In India there is a huge range with attractive covers at IndiaMart. I stopped using the low-quality exercise books that the school provided and took to spiral-bound reporters’ notebooks from W. H. Smith.
I did a lot more than class work with my rough books. Diaries were tiny in the 1970s and could record little of your life unless you could write as small as Charlotte Bronte. Since I was already putting dates on the school stuff it made sense to write about my complex social life, intricate relationships and teenage depressions in the rough book too. Anything really, including logging music chart shows on the BBC, Radio North Sea International and Luxembourg radio stations. And doodles. Lots and lots of doodles: mostly abstract landscapes, weird lettering and spaceships. I would also record quotes and ideas, although later I would keep these together in a proper commonplace book just so that I could find them again.
Once, before a holiday with school chums in Paris, I painted illustrations in the book in advance of going. They will never let me forget that when I wrote it up later, I mixed-up the events of the last two evenings, probably because some lower-6th form girls got me to drink at least two bottles of red wine on the last night.
I hope you get the idea: it’s for a long-form diary or journal, thoughts, early versions, anything on your mind that you want to get down and stop thinking about, or anything you want to record before you forget it, from shopping lists to ideas for blog posts, articles or recipes. You can be as discursive/tangential as you like and often new ideas come this way. Capsule reviews of film or TV — you’ll thank yourself twenty years later! Doodles, sketches. The neighbours’ doings. Stuff that won’t get captured by these new-fangled devices we carry these days, or any thoughts you don’t want to be read by the NSA or GCHQ. If you do keep a diary, then a rough first version at the time can allow you to write a concise account later and be certain whether you shampooed the dog on Tuesday or Wednesday.
As I said in my last blog post, I’m writing this in response to Myke Hurley on the Pen Addict podcast no. 190 who felt like a fraud for not using his accumulation of notebooks and being a collector more than a user. I hope I’ve given you all some ideas you can adopt and adapt. A rough book gives the freedom to write anything until you doze off or an external force intervenes. You can write at any length. Is all this freedom scary? No, it’s only a rough book!