This shall be one of my rare writing posts. I don't often write about writing, because the whole writing experience is extremely subjective and personal.
However, I have been seeing the phrase "professional writer" bounced around a lot lately by a lot of folks who have different interpretations as to what being a professional writer entails. As far as I'm concerned, if you are writing professionally, with due care and diligence to your craft, then you are a professional writer. Others may or may not share your interpretation, either of yourself or them, but that's okay. It's not always about you. Or them.
My personal interpretation of what it means to write professionally can be summed very succinctly:
I write with an eye toward publication. When I go into a project, I am thinking of a publisher and the types of stories they've purchased in the past. I'm not always right and not all of my stories sell, but that's okay. It's not always about me and my stories. Sometimes, I learn more from a rejection, and if I pay attention, I can make my stories better.
Writing with an eye toward publication sometimes means that I can't write everything that I want to write. If a particular series is not selling, then I have to figure out why. If I can't salvage enough of the story and characters to continue, then I have to let that series go. And that's okay, because I learn new writing techniques when I drive my prose toward the market.
I do not have to write in my every spare waking moment in order to call myself a professional writer. Some professional writers DO write in their every spare waking moments. Everyone's lifestyle is different. We all need to read as well as write. Television and movies often jar me into bouts of creativity, but sometimes I need a night off from everything. And that's okay. This is what works for me. You will be different.
I am prepared to learn marketing skills and employ them alongside my publisher in promoting my works. That means I'm willing to learn technical skills such as blogging, social networking, and maintaining my website, and that's okay. These skills will be valuable to me no matter where I go.
I am earning money from my writing. And that's okay.
I think the only thing that truly bothers me is when someone describes themselves as an "aspiring writer." If you're writing, you're not an "aspiring writer," but a writer who aspires toward publication.
And that is definitely okay.