When I was younger and liked writing stories or poems just for fun, sometimes I'd write one a month. Other times, they'd descend in swarms and I'd find myself the proud parent of forty, fifty poems from an hour of boredom. Then I went to school for it.
I can only guess that I was accepted into my writing program because I had at least some promise. I don't think my alma mater would have invited me in if I had zero talent. I mean, obviously they wanted money, but I'm sure reputation has weight too, and they probably wouldn't want anyone to read my terrible work and say "Can you believe they gave her a degree? Guess they'll give 'em to anyone that pays. Strip them of their accreditation!"
So let's agree that someone thought I had talent. Gosh I feel all warm and fuzzy now, comforted, and...well, I just ate a chocolate chip cookie so I suppose that could be this feeling. Anyway, talent: I had that. But in that collegiate setting, listening to successful writers, the first and most important thing I learned was discipline. Talent makes a hobby. Discipline makes a career.
I'm not talking about ridiculous, instant success. Every person measures success differently. At school I was told, again and again, that the "professional" of "professional writer" means you get paid for it. That would mean that, if I spent three hours a day doing complicated and technical computer stuff and earned a living from it, but at least seven hours of the day was devoted to writing, editing, and reading, I wouldn't be considered a professional writer. That would mean that, if I wrote that often and produced really amazing stuff but I wanted people to read it for free, I wouldn't be considered a professional writer. Talent, discipline, distribution, and an audience, but because I'm not paid, not "professional". That would mean that the author of a really awful--but published!--book was a professional writer, but me with my passion was not.
I just don't buy it.
I have no problem calling myself a professional writer. Part of this is because I have a difficult time caring about what random people think of me. I'm fine receiving constructive criticism from educated sources with similar or better talent and passion, and I listen to those people because I want to learn from them. But to say I'm not a "real" writer because I measure my success outside a box someone else constructed is a joke.
I write every day. I edit every day. I read every day, to explore new forms and topics and lifestyles and just learn new things. I care about what I write. Every day, even if I'm tired or sick or exhausted or busy or just want to lie around watching BBC dramas and eating popcorn. That's the discipline that I learned at school, that's what changed my habits, and that's what changed how I see myself as a writer. It was a hobby when it was a whim, and it became a job when I started treating it like one. Sure, it's more difficult, but it's also worth it.
Besides, I measure my success first by whether my poems actually kill anyone, and so far, I can tell you, all of them have successfully not caused death. It's hard not to get big-headed when you're batting a thousand.