The great thing about writing for external publications is that you have deadlines to meet. They are non-negotiable and if you miss them, you probably won't be asked by the editor to write again. The problem with self-directed writing is the lack of external deadlines. If I don't write a blog post, who's going to berate me? My dogs don't care, and the world at large really will keep going. It has to be an internal drive that keeps the effort rolling, and in the long run, you hope that effort pays off.
This month, for example, I have a few deadlines to meet. The copy for the summer issue of Coast Kids, which comes out in June, is due on April 20, because it has to be reviewed by the Editor-In-Chief and laid out by the Art Director. I completed an assignment for a another magazine at the end of last month and I'm hoping they ask me to do more this month. And last but not least, I have a publishing contract for my book, which means I have to actually finish writing it all by May 15, which means a first draft of everything by the end of this month.
But this is OK. Why? Because I'm in control. The thing I love about writing is that it really is all up to me. I either get it done or it doesn't happen. That's both frightening and liberating. No politics or external forces affect me, other than scheduling interviews with individuals for particular articles. For the book, it's all on me: no one else.
All artists have to be self-motivated. Whether you're writing, painting, taking photographs, making jewelry or pottery, you do it first because you love it. If you can make money doing it, that's gravy.
Roger Ebert made a career out of critiquing movies and some may argue that this doesn't change the world in any way, but, he was an artist: disciplined, creative and above all, a great writer.
Two thumbs up, Roger.