When asked, I tell them I don't know the answer, and I assume it's different for each of us. I started my career the old-fashioned way: I wrote articles—many—and learned the craft before I attempted a book. Not only was it excellent training, but the pieces were short. I could write them by devoting myself to one hour during the day and sneak in a little time on Saturday afternoons.
When I started to publish, I was a pastor in the Atlanta area and loved the combination of writing for print on the side. After my twelfth year of being a pastor, I had to decide if I was a preacher who wrote or a writer who preached. It took me more than a year to make that decision and, during my fourteenth year, I opted to become a fulltime writer. By then I had published several books.
Even then I didn't consider myself a professional. Here's why I've given all this lead-up material. The move from amateur to professional is an inside job—something we have to believe about ourselves. Some braggarts call themselves professionals as if they hope it's true, but that's not what I mean.
Call it lack of self-confidence or being focused on feelings of not being quite good enough as a writer. I vividly remember the first time I said, "I'm a professional writer," and that was after someone asked me what I did for a living.
I gulped as I said those words, but, for the first time in my life, I knew they were true.
How do you move from beginner or amateur to the professional status?
Here's my answer. First, you need some kind of proof of your professional status, that is, a record of accomplishment. Second, you have to feel you've moved to the professional status.
Only I can decide when I am a professional.