A professional writer is certainly anyone paid to write. But is the word professional useful? I never use it. I’m a writer, that’s it. And that is everything.
Anyone who writes in their job can certainly be called a professional. Writing grant proposals, drafting legal memoranda, preparing reports for colleagues, all of that could be considered professional writing. Even if the majority of time isn’t spent in writing, a person is still getting paid for when they do. So how is the term professional helpful?
The word professional is almost always contrasted with the word amateur. But amateur has a derogatory tone these days and it, too, is not terribly useful. Someone who writes as a volunteer or intern or blogger and does not get paid should not have their writing undermined by the amateur label. Making a deliberate choice, Kafka sold virtually none of his work yet no one would consider him an amateur writer.
The art world faces a related discussion with the terms fine artist and graphic artist. In general, the fine artist is not regularly employed by a single firm or person, and makes more independent decisions than a graphic artist. A fine artist might decide one day to paint an airplane, a graphic artist might produce airplane drawings for Boeing. Norman Rockwell was a graphic artist yet all agree, talent wise, that he was quite a fine artist indeed. Do we have in the writing world a similar situation, where true writing is done by our dictates and working writing is dictated by others?
What do we have? It is a point of pride that I get paid for most of my writing, even if my web writing is read mostly by search engines. Tempering my pride is the fact that my writing does not support me, rather, it provides only supplemental income. Tempering that thought is the knowledge that few writers, artists, actors, musicians, or photographers make their living from their craft. Most of us soldier on with day jobs and keep our true love going with whatever time we can spare it. And we do so, as professionally as possible.