Ellie DeLano likes to say, “What happens on LiveJournal stays on Livejournal!”

However, that hasn’t truly been the case for her—at all. LiveJournal is the network that honed her writing skills, landed her a job and supported her when she needed it most.

DeLano (not her real name) made the Daily Dot’s list of the 10 most important people on LiveJournal in 2011 (her username is Amenquohi) as the winner of The Real LJ Idol, a year-long writing competition.

In the contest, bloggers exercise their writing muscles by scripting compelling posts and putting them up for an audience poll. DeLano, who is in her mid forties (she didn’t want to be more specific)  and has been blogging on LiveJournal for ten years, competed in the contest three times before winning in 2011.

   

“I won by one vote in the final few minutes of the competition. As for how I was treated, it was great beforehand and really, really wonderful afterward. Everyone in the community is so supportive and terrific, and I had such an incredible sense of accomplishment considering the talent level I was competing against.

DeLano’s winning entry, written last July and presented as a story, written in third person, depicted a less happy time in her life. In 2010, the Philadelphian mother of two—gifted 11-year-old Anna and autistic 8-year-old David— had to drop out of Livejournal Idol after coming down with, as she calls it, “a bad case of Life:”

It was on her daughter's seventh birthday that she discovered her husband's girlfriend, and by default, the end of her marriage. The girlfriend wasn't the first, just the last she'd put up with. The devastation of Life just can't be planned for, sometimes. It uprooted all she was, tore her life clean out from under her. Hell, I thought she was a goner. She dropped out of Idol with a soft apology, gathered her kids in her arms, and rode out the storm.

That year was already a difficult time for DeLano. As she struggled with her marriage, she began to retreat to LiveJournal, where she’s been building her friends list from 10 to “a few hundred” people from around the world.

“LJ is my place to vent, to tell secrets to complete strangers that I trust more than my family, to get advice from people in every walk of life,” she told the Daily Dot.

However, when she discovered her husbands girlfriend, she needed more than a retreat. DeLano said he walked out on her, taking two-thirds of the family’s income with him. Since she already had a day job working as an executive assistant, DeLano had to find a way to supplement her income without spending more time away from her kids.

Writing seemed like an obvious option. Though she’d always been too scared to try for a writing job before, her LiveJournal entries gave what she needed.

“I never would have had the courage before, but LJ Idol really gave me some confidence. I submitted three pieces as requested, and two of the three were previous LJ Idol entries,” she said. “I ended up getting the job and I've been there ever since.”

After ten years on the network, DeLano is finally branching away from LiveJournal. There’s her weekly Divorce Diaries column in Woman’s Day, but also her personal Blogger site, SingleMomtism. She’s also finally joined another social network—Facebook.

“I've backed off my LJ since Facebook came along, but I don't want to abandon it,” DeLano said.

Now, DeLano is working with an agent she met at BlogHer Writer’s Conference on putting her story in print.

“[My agent’s] got me working on a book about my journey to becoming a divorce blogger, so hopefully you'll see me in print in the near future!” she told us.

DeLano said that without the Real LJ Idol, she would never have had the confidence to become a professional writer. She gave the contest—and its moderator, Gary—glowing reviews.

It's a wonderful nearly year-long exercise for your writer brain, a great way to read new and interesting people, and a tremendous amount of work under a tremendous amount of stress netting a tremendous amount of fun.