Just Make It Exist
In writing, it's a first draft. In engineering, it's a prototype. In solo performance, it's something you can perform at an open mike night that is at least marginally better than taking a shit on the stage.
When you try and create pretty much anything, the process usually begins with some kind of first draft; the first basically complete functional version of whatever it is you're eventually trying to put together.
I was talking to a friend on Skype the other day (Adam Brooks, pianist and composer extraordinaire), and it came up that both of us were trying to get first drafts done. He was writing the outline for a new show, and I was writing a long and complicated email to an immigration lawyer. Very different projects, but similar procrastination problems with getting that first draft done.
After a lot of mutual complaining, I finally said something that finally kicked us both into productivity:
Your goal when writing a first draft is not to make it good. Your goal is just to make it exist.
Or, in terms of judging your own or someone else's first draft, here is the patented (not actually patented) Things By Simon marking guide:
In order of importance:
1) Does it exist? (95% of your mark)
2) Is it any good? (5% of your mark; barely worth worrying about)
For a first draft, quality comes a very, very distant second place against just existing.
Obviously a good first draft is better than a shitty first draft. But when it comes to actually creating something decent, a crappy first draft RIGHT NOW is a thousand times better than a great first draft in two weeks. Or three weeks. Or a year. Or, more likely, never, because that's when the first draft usually turns up if you let yourself get too obsessed over quality at the start.
By the end of the Skype conversation (which admittedly lasted three hours) Adam and I had each applied the marking guide, and cranked out respective first drafts. Adam is now working on polishing up his show, and I am finally ready to send off a complicated heap of immigration documents.
On a progress scale from 0 (non-existant) to 10 (finished), going from 0 to 1 is the hardest part. From 1 to 2 is an increase of 100%. From 2 to 3 is an increase of 50%. It gets easier as you go along. But from 0 to 1... well, it's either infinity percent or a divide-by-zero error depending on how mathematically strict you want to be.
First drafts are tough. Easing off on the quality requirements can really, really help.