I recently came across this definition of professional writer: "The core skills required to be a professional writer are good communication, organized thought, a high standard of grammar and language, and clarity. Skills may be acquired through practice or formal learning. While many practitioners of professional writing do so as a vocation rather than as full-time employment, the element of professionalism is what ultimately defines professional writing."
Funny enough, my magazine and newspaper articles must fit this bill, or otherwise they wouldn't keep asking me to write for them. The Huffington Post online keeps publishing my essays. And my blog of personal essays keeps garnering readers (MANY thanks to you all for reading, whether you've been following me from the beginning or just jumping in!). I meet my deadlines, I'm a "grammar Nazi," I follow writing rules -- and know when to bend them. So why don't I think of myself as a "professional writer"?
Do I feel guilty because I'm not making much money yet? Perhaps. But I have to get over that. I didn't just jump into this overnight, and Tim and I discussed that I wouldn't be bringing in much (if anything) the first couple of years.
Is it just too good to be true, that I get to spend my days doing what makes me happy? Yes. But I have to get over that, too. I am as deserving of being happy as anyone else. One of my favorite quotes is from "Letters to a Young Poet" by Rainer Maria Rilke: "If, when you wake up in the morning, you can think of nothing but writing... then you are a writer."
If I'm waiting for someone else to validate my professionalism, I will never feel authentic. I'll always be looking to the next project as "THE" endorsement... and the next, and the next... I'll have lost the ability to make myself happy in my chosen profession by looking to others to judge me "good enough to be a professional."
But I already am. How do I know?
I wake up every morning thinking of writing.