It can vary on your field. I am in engineering where it is assumed you will get 2 papers out before finishing but other fields (cough*** Humanities) no one ever publishes during the PhD. Have a look round your colleagues and see if publishing is necessary (though it is always desirable)
If you find it hard to motivate yourself, remember you can put published work in your thesis which will make your defense a lot easier. It is harder to criticise peer-reviewed work that has published during your viva. So if you have over a year left publishing would be very valuable.
I am fortunate that my project is contains 4-5 smaller projects that can all be turned into papers. Try to identify bits of your work that answer a clear question and publish them. Those papers than can then form the basis of a chapter which will make writing your paper easier.
I got two journal articles and a conference paper published before I submitted and I'm preparing two more journal articles while waiting for my viva. My field is colour image processing.
A PhD is basically a training to do research and to write journal articles and the more you can demonstrate to the examiners that you can do that, the better. At school I was taught to always make things easy for the examiners and the more of your thesis that has already been peer-reviewed, the easier it'll be for your PhD examiners to pass you.
I also published a couple of times during a Humanities PhD, but I think it's fair to say that there's less expectation for students to do so - which is perhaps what rewt is really getting at? All peer-reviewed publications should, of course, be worthwhile contributions to their field - by definition ;)
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