Brianna Wiest keeps a small notebook with her. Printed on its cover is a simple mantra, but one the Lancaster writer abides by closely: “Ideas become things.”
Wiest says she writes new ways she can expand her horizons daily in the journal. Some are ideas for articles she could pitch to national publications. Others might be people she hopes to connect with.
It’s a tangible collection of what the Elizabethtown College graduate describes as “hmm, maybe thoughts.”
“Everything in my life has started with one ‘hmm, maybe thought,’” Wiest says. “‘Hmm, maybe.’ That’s it.”
Her latest “hmm, maybe thought”: a foray into the world of poetry.
Wiest recently submitted her manuscript for her first book of poetry, “Salt Water.” The book’s release date is forthcoming. The 24-year-old already has published three books of essays written for the website Thought Catalog: “101 Essays to Change the Way You Think,” “The Truth About Everything” and “The Human Element.”
She is a regular contributor to national publications including Huffington Post, Teen Vogue and Allure. Wiest served as an editorial director at Thought Catalog, where she amassed 70 million reads on her articles.
Wiest works as a writer and copy editor for Fine Living Lancaster. She also founded the website Soul Anatomy and has written sponsored content for brands including Smartwater and HBO’s “Girls.”
She briefly moved to New York after graduating from Elizabethtown, but returned to Lancaster at the end of 2013. She still contributes to Thought Catalog, but left her position as editorial director in early 2015.
“There was a warmth and a kindness from people that you just don’t get other places,” Wiest says of Lancaster.
Wiest, originally from Long Island, New York, entered Elizabethtown College with hopes of becoming a professional editor.
“I did not want to be a writer,” Wiest says. “That was not on the radar. I was too self-conscious.”
She reconsidered that while on a trip with her family in New York state.
Wiest went off on her own for a hike. She felt unsettled, as if there was a greater purpose to her life that she wasn’t yet fulfilling.
“My mom tells me that when I was little I would say to her, ‘Mom, there’s something I’m supposed to do, and I just don’t know what it is. … I’m supposed to help people,’ ” Wiest says.
On that solitary hike, Wiest says she has an epiphany that she could help people through writing.
Wiest studied professional writing at Elizabethtown College and served as editor-in-chief of the school’s student newspaper. She graduated in 2013 after just three years.
During her last year at college, Wiest worked at the paper, in addition to two other jobs, overloaded on classes and spent her lunch breaks in the computer lab working on pitches and articles for publications.
One publication happened to be Thought Catalog. After following up with an editor, her first story went live. She submitted more and was shortly offered a position as a full-time editor.
Wiest says a fiery work ethic is crucial to making it as a writer.
“If you don’t have that hustle, you’re not getting in, and you need to be able to do it every single day,” Wiest says.
Ally Rohland, of Lancaster, witnessed that work ethic first hand while working at Elizabethtown’s student newspaper with Wiest. The women are now close friends.
“I know her writing has helped so many people,” Rohland, of Lancaster, says. “It’s helped myself, personally, and I think that’s just kind of one of the things that has made her super successful — being relatable but also helping people.”
Many of Wiest’s articles deal with the topic of emotional intelligence, the ability to identify and deal with one’s feelings. The accidental concentration was born out of Wiest’s own mental health struggles and how she has bettered herself by changing the way she thinks, she says.
“When I was at Thought Catalog, we kind of had creative liberty that we could just write what we wanted, and that’s just what kept coming out,” Wiest says. “That’s just what I wanted to write about, what I was dealing with and what other people could maybe get something from.”
One of her most popular posts, “20 Signs You’re Doing Better Than You Think You Are,” has been shared 8 million times. It’s full of reminders to not take basic comforts like health, shelter and food security for granted.
Wiest was inspired to try her hand at poetry after her boyfriend gave her “Milk and Honey,” the best-selling poetry collection by Rupi Kaur. It was an unusual project from Wiest, who once grimaced at the thought of creative writing.
“I never thought I would write a poem in my life,” Wiest says.
She tried writing poems in a similar style for fun. Wiest decided to test the waters and gauge interest by posting an original poem on Twitter. The post was retweeted more than 1,000 times. “Salt Water” will be published by Thought Catalog, as were her three previous books.
There are common elements in her poetry, namely connections between mental issues and the human experience to nature.
Wiest says crafting poetry is a lot different than writing articles.
“It really is quality over quantity,” Wiest says.
While writing and editing the book, she weighed and pondered each word’s value. Conversations with her editors left her with advice she held dear during the process.
“I was asking, what kind of length are you looking for?” Wiest says. “Their exact words were, ‘You want them to be sweating for more.’ ”