"So what do you do?"
"(mumbling about day job) and I write novels. I have two published and one due out in March."
This inevitably produces a surprised and impressed look. (Which leaves me feeling like a fraud, but we'll talk about impostor syndrome another time.) Because real writers never emerge in public. Everyone knows they are grown in cocoons from a DNA combo of Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Once hatched, they are installed in a tower with spectacular views, a computer and generous plotboards. Then they release their visions into the wild to delight and astonish.
They don't shop at the grocery store or pick up their kids at school or go to the dentist like normal people do.
Except they do. Or rather, we do.
We don't write because we were programmed in some Orwellian machine. We write because we have stories we want to tell, characters who live in our brains and ideas that won't let us sleep at night. But not all writers become authors.
A writer is someone who writes stories. Those stories may be tucked away in a notepad, hidden under the bed or forgotten in an ancient file folder, but they still count. An author is someone who has taken the step to turn their scribbling into something professional, with an expectation that one day, this will be an income-earning job.
Being an author is a lot of work and requires effort and money. Joining professional organizations, editing, submitting to publishers, promotion, just to name a few of the key aspects that do not involve writing.
I have always been a writer. I've written stories since before I knew how to shape the letters (early graphic novels, except for the fact that my story always played out on one page as I erased and moved the characters around). But five years ago, I decided that I wasn't happy with only being a writer. I wanted to make the jump to being an author.
I did it for a number of reasons. First, it's always been a dream of mine and I was tired of treating my dreams as impossible. Second, as much as I enjoyed being at home with my kids, having several years without me earning an income made a difference. I don't want to be working part time at a job I don't love into my sixties and seventies. So I'm taking a chance on maybe being able to earn a living at a job that I do love. And third, the stories inside of me wouldn't accept anything less than being told exactly as I imagined them. They've pushed me to be a better writer, to learn the techniques and approaches which narrow the gap between what I imagined and what ends up on the page.
So I write because I can't imagine doing anything else and being happy.