While participating in a panel discussion at this past weekend's ArmadilloCon in Austin, Texas, I had an epiphany about the role of external motivation.
Matt Cardin, Carrie Clevenger, Amanda Downum, Kirk Lynn, Ari Marmell, Jessica Reisman, and I were discussing "How to Deal with Writer's Block." Having never experienced writer's block, I, of course, claimed it didn't exist. The other panelists begged to differ.
My co-panelists are primarily long-form writers (novelists, non-fiction books, etc.), while I am primarily a short-form writer (short stories, articles, etc.), and our discussion of ways to overcome those periods when one does not feel motivated to put words on paper (regardless which term one uses to identify those moments) included a discussion of internal and external motivation.
Long-form writers require, and struggle with, internal motivation to drive them through the long slog of producing several hundred pages of publishable prose. The paucity of external motivation drives them to seek it from spouses, critique groups, beta readers, and others.
I realized that I don't struggle with internal motivation in part because, as a short-form writer, I am deluged with external motivation. For example, in the week leading up to ArmadilloCon, I received contracts for three short stories, responded to an editor's request for a bio to accompany a story in an upcoming anthology, received an update from another anthology editor, received payments for two short stories, and received royalty reports regarding contributions to four already published anthologies. (And, yes, my spouse also provided external motivation by asking when I'll finish another story for her to read.)
All of this activity represents a fairly typical week. In short, I receive external motivation on a frequent and on-going basis, so I rarely rely on internal motivation to drive myself to the keyboard.
This may explain why I concentrate on short-form writing. Early in my writing career I wrote a few novels (all of which were published), but short fiction provided greater and more frequent external motivation. That external motivation contributed to a feedback loop. The more I wrote, the more external motivation I received. The more external motivation I received, the more I wrote.
Would I experience "writer's block" were it not for this deluge of external motivation?
I don't know, and I hope I never have to find out.