First off, and yes, this is totally vain - I can totally start sentences with, "So my agent . . ."
If there's something I've always wanted to do, or a place I've always wanted to go, I can do the research, and experience it through my character. I'm working on one that takes place in Paris, but I do keep telling my husband we might need to do some "field research."
I have different works in progress for different moods. I just finished a MS with a good friend where my character was a bit self-centered and cocky. This is not me, so it was a blast to write.
This is totally random, but I feel like being a writer gives me license to be a little odd and quirky - which I tend to be anyway.
Everywhere I sit - whether I'm on a plane, or waiting in line - I have something to think about. If I'm not thinking about plot lines, I can be listening in on conversations, or watching people, gaining material for characters.
I can play ball with all my teenage friends in the name of "research."
My job, doesn't feel like a job. It feels like playtime. My favorite hobby is my job.
Along with the above - I would write for relaxation whether I was published or not. So, it's a win-win for me.
I put something of myself in each and every book - some like or dislike, some fun quirk from when I was a kid. I name characters after my friends, and (so far) they all think it's great.
The best part about being an author is finishing a story, and feeling like I did that person justice, because by the time I'm done with a book, my characters are as real as my friends.
And that's why I love being a writer.