Harlan Ellison's own words on the whole "I'm a writer. What are you?" story:
"Paramount had been trying to get a Star Trek film in work for some time. Roddenberry was determined that his name would be on the writing credits somehow... The trouble is, he can't write for sour owl poop. His one idea, done six or seven times in the series and again in the feature film, is that the crew of the Enterprise goes into space, finds God, and God turns out to be insane, or a child, or both. I'd been called in twice, prior to 1975, to discuss the story. Other writers had also been milked. Paramount couldn't make up their minds and had even kicked Gene (Roddenberry) off the project a few times, until he brought in lawyers. Then the palace guard changed again at Paramount and Diller and (Michael) Eisner came over from ABC and brought a cadre of their... buddies. One of them was an ex-set designer... name Mark Trabulus.
"Roddenberry suggested me as the scenarist for the film with this Trabulus, the latest.... of the know-nothing duds Paramount had assigned to the troublesome project. I had a talk with Gene... about a storyline. He told me they kept wanting bigger and bigger stories, but no matter what was suggested, it wasn't big enough. I devised a storyline and Gene liked it, and set up a meeting with Trabulus for December 11, 1975. That meeting was canceled... but we finally got together on December 15th. It was just Gene and Trabulus and me in Gene's office on the Paramount lot.
"I told them the story. It involved going to the end of the known universe to slip back through time to the Pleistocene period when Man first emerged. I postulated a parallel development of reptile life that might have developed into the dominant species on Earth had mammals not prevailed. I postulated an alien intelligence from a far galaxy where the snakes had become the dominant life form, and a snake-creature who had come to Earth in the Star Trek future, had seen its ancestors wiped out, and who had gone back into the far past of Earth to set up distortions in the time-flow so the reptiles could beat the humans. The Enterprise goes back to set time right, finds the snake alien, and the human crew is confronted with the moral dilemma of whether it had the right to wipe out an entire life form just to insure its own territorial imperative in our present and future. The story, in short, spanned all of time and all of space, with a moral and ethical problem.
"Trabulus listened to all this and sat silently for a few minutes. Then he said, 'You know, I was reading this book by this guy named Von Daniken and he proved that the Mayan calendar was exactly like ours, so it must have come from aliens. Could you put in some Mayans?'
"I looked at Gene; Gene looked at me; he said nothing. I looked at Trabulus and said, 'There weren't any Mayans at the dawn of time.' And he said, 'Well, who's to know the difference?' And I said, 'I'm to know the difference. It's a dumb suggestion.' So Trabulus got very uptight and said he liked Mayans a lot and why didn't I do it if I wanted to write this picture. So I said, 'I'm a writer. I don't know what the fuck you are!' And I got up and walked out. And that was the end of my association with the Star Trek movie."
Source: Stephen King's "Danse Macabre", footnote on pages 346-347 (hardbound 1981, first edition printing), from Harlan Ellison's own account. King's take on that little anecdote: "Right on, Harlan!"
Something a mentor once told me:
"Any idiot with a pen and paper or, perhaps, a typewriter or computer, can be a writer. If you want to be a writer, then do it. Just don't expect a whole lot of return on your investment in time. If, however, you want to be an author, then you've got a long, hard, vicious road ahead of you and whatever lies in your path will most likely want your head on a platter. That beast's name is Mister Editor and he's a son of a bitch to contend with. Be a writer all you like, but for God's sake, stay away from authorship with all your might."
I am a writer. I've been a writer since I was 16, just shy of half my life at this point, only I didn't come to the realization until I was 25. I am 29 now, pushing 30, and I've decided that I'm tired of being a Writer. I've got enough piss and vinegar in me to fight, tooth and nail, for the right to be an Author.
A writer writes; an author gets paid for it.
It takes years of hard work to be an Author. It takes writing your ass off, slogging through tons of tripe that you wouldn't show to your closest loved one. It takes hacking your own work to hell and gone and still feeling good about it because, hey, you're improving your skill. It takes talent. It takes time. It takes getting countless rejections. It takes training yourself to become a human video/tape recorder, mentally taking down every event in your life in the hopes that you can use it someday in one of your stories. It takes working yourself blind at some shit job until you can turn a dollar or two at doing what you love. It takes loving it, not just hoping for it. It takes being antisocial and snapping at your friends when you'd rather just be alone to do your thing. It takes finding your voice. It takes waking up in the middle of the night, when you haven't slept more than 6 hours in three days, just so you can put that crazy idea which won't leave you alone down on a scrap of paper and hope that will exorcise the demon, the monkey on your back. It takes all kinds of stuff that would drive most people insane if they aren't 100% devoted to it.
It also takes a lot of snide comments from some people about how you're wasting your life writing all the time while the world passes you by.
If you want to be a writer, that's easy and can be done in your spare time with minimal fuss. If you want to be an author, I've got news for you.
Many writers go into it with the intention of becoming authors. Many writers quickly realize just how much sacrifice they'll have to endure before it's all over. Many writers give up.
In the end, the only thing that will keep you on track will be your dedication to your craft. And it's a very solitary craft, at that. It's not glamour. It's not instant success. It's not even having a truckload of material. It is possible, but only if you don't give up, if you don't stop for anything.
Being a writer is a cakewalk compared to being an author. Being a writer and an author, however, is one of the nicest hat tricks a human being can pull off. Doing so ensures that you will remain an Author.
It's a career, a job. Just like any job, you must start at the ground level and work your way up. You must hate and love it with all your heart, both at the same time.
Keep that in your mind throughout your career as a Writer. If it still agrees with you after you've written about, oh say, a million words, then feel free to become an Author at your leisure. Just realize that the literary industry is not an equal opportunity employer: it only has room for those who are willing to do the work and who have the talent. And you've got lots of competition, to boot. I mean, who isn't a writer these days?
But what do I know? I'm still a writer.