Even Fortune Cookie Writers Get Writer's Block

Posted on June 15, 2005

If you've ever eaten at a Chinese food restaurant and read your fortune from a fortune cookie, there's a good chance that you've read Donald Lau's work. Lau is a vice-president at Wonton Food, Inc., where he does accounting and insurance work, and writes the fortunes inside the fortune cookies produced by the largest manufacturer in the world. But there's a dark side to Lau's life as a fortune writer. He's got a debilitating case of writer's block according to the New Yorker.

Love, riches, power: there is a limited range of experience that can be expressed in one sentence, and, about eleven years into his tenure, Lau began to run out of ideas. He leaned increasingly on traditional Chinese sayings, which offer insight (along the lines of "True gold fears no fire") but not foresight ("Your income will increase"), and in 1995 he gave up altogether. "I've written thousands of fortunes, but the inspiration is gone," Lau said. "Have you heard of writer's block? That is what happened to me."
The New Yorker story says Lau has decided to bring in new fortune cookie writers. The company plans to advertise for the positions and Lau will edit the short pithy fortunes. Lau is pondering writing a book about writing fortunes someday.

Think you have what it takes to write thousands of fortunes for unsuspecting diners? Perhaps a move to Long Island City, home of Wonton Food, Inc., is in your future.

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