This Is a Real Job: Writing Fortune Cookie Fortunes

If you always wanted to be a writer, but just can’t seem to sit still long enough to craft the next “War and Peace,” do not despair. Consider writing fortune cookie fortunes. This wild and wacky job only requires one or two sentences per publication, a short (short) story writer’s dream job.

(Photo Credit: It’s So Sunny!/Flickr)

It seems that writing fortune cookie fortunes was not always big business. According to The Week, Wonton Foods was established as recently as 1973. They are still the biggest manufacturer of fortune cookies and their fortunes, shipping as many as 5 million cookies daily, each one complete with little tidbits of wisdom and luck, to restaurants throughout the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe.

When Donald Lau was vice president of Wonton Foods, he would scribble out the little messages between other job duties. He told The New Yorker in 2005 that he would find inspiration wherever he could find it, including subway signs.

The Week also reports that another writer of fortune cookie fortunes, Lisa Yang, vice president of Yang’s Fortunes in San Francisco and daughter of founder Steven Yang, claims to find fortune cookie fortune inspiration in both ancient Chinese adages as well as modern-day horoscopes in the newspaper. We creative types know that there might be inspiration hiding anywhere. You just have to look.

However, back at Wonton Foods, even Lau could not keep up with 5 million per day. Wonton Food, Inc. pays a team of freelance writers to keep the messages new and fresh. Every couple of years, the contracted writers renew and refresh Wonton Foods’ database of 15,000 messages. Sounds like a fun gig for any creative writer.

Today there are blogs dedicated to the history and art of writing fortune cookie fortunes. A lot of time, effort and research seems to go into crafting unique pieces of ten words or less.

Interestingly, fortune cookie fortunes are an American phenomena. Chinese restaurant owners in American would not dream of serving you or handing you a bag of takeout that did not include the little treats. In China, however, it is neither expected nor common.

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