Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lessons from NaNoWriMo

As I reported here earlier, this year I took part in NaNoWriMo for the first time. I challenged myself to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Yesterday I completed my novel, the longest piece of writing I have achieved!

I learned a lot from this experience, both about myself as a writer and about the novel I was trying to write. Here are some of my conclusions, and I hope writers reading this will be able to apply some of them to their own writing.

First of all, I found it quite easy to write. I think I approached this project after years of having wanted to write, and having finally committed myself to do it, I removed my internal resistance and inhibitions. Reaching the daily word count was quite easy, and I managed to avoid writers' block.

An important part of my success was due to my awareness that this novel did not have to be perfect. In fact, I consider it a first draft of a practice novel. I knew from the beginning that it would need a lot of editing and revision, and that allowed me to write without worrying too much. I may spend as much time, or more on rewriting it later as I spent writing it this month. The achievement here is just getting the story written. It is now out on the computer, not locked in my head.

I learned the importance of writing every day. I wrote every single day from November 1 to November 29, apart from one day when I was away at a conference. I knew I would be going away, so I wrote a bit more before then and got my word count high enough so it wasn't difficult to catch up afterwards.

The story I wrote was based on ideas and characters that I had been thinking about for a long time. Of course, once I started writing, the emphasis changed, new ideas emerged, and the end result is not quite what I was expecting. It felt good to have these inspired moments when new plot twists and turns emerged.

In the future, I think it would be better for me to prepare an outline and decide where the story is going in advance, and how to pace the various events. Some writers like the control that comes from having an outline, while others like discovering things as they go along. I want to try outlining and see if that makes it easier for me.

Throughout my writing experience, I thought several times how much easier it would be for me to write non-fiction. I have always wanted to tell stories, but I also enjoy writing factual or educational pieces. This blog is currently my main outlet for writing non-fiction. It is interesting to consider the differences between fiction and non-fiction. In fiction, the author's imagination creates everything that happens. Non-fiction is mainly an attempt to describe some aspect of reality in a clear and entertaining or educational fashion.

In terms of writing skills, I feel I need to work more on the principle of "show, don't tell", to improve my dialogue and descriptions, and to structure the story so it is better paced and everything leads up to the conclusion. Much of this can be done during the editing stage.

I intend to put the novel I have just finished aside for a few weeks, and then return to it and read it with fresh eyes. I will then rewrite it and see how much I can improve it. It may turn into a rather different work.

I plan to continue my newly acquired habit of writing every day. My next project is a non-fiction work, and I will be able to compare these writing experiences.

To all writers, whether or not you have taken the NaNoWriMo challenge, I strongly recommend writing every day. Let it become a daily habit. Sometimes what you write will be good, sometimes not so good, but at least you are practicing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Jasmine Conference for Businesswomen 2010

On November 24, 2010, I attended the annual conference of Jasmine Businesswomen's Association. This was the third time I attended this conference. This year, it was held at the Sharon Hotel in Herzliya.

The conference was hosted, as in previous years, by journalist Iman Elqasem Suliman. She was highly professional, introducing guests in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, and providing some brief summaries of the English lectures. Simultaneous interpretation from Hebrew to Arabic using headphones was also available for those who required it.

The morning session was opened by Kiram Baloum, CEO of Jasmine and coordinator of the women's empowerment unit of the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development (CJAED).

The first guest speaker was Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, MK, Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor. He spoke about the economic development of the Arab sector and the importance of small businesses to the economy. He explained that Israel has 450,000 small businesses, constituting 98.5% of the businesses in Israel, and employing 55% of the country's workforce. His ministry is establishing dedicated loans and training for Arab women.

The next speaker was Helmi Kittani, CJAED Director, who stressed the importance of integration, and stated that the inclusion of Arab women in the workforce would guarantee a rise in the standard of living throughout Israeli society.

Next, we heard from Ran Kaviti, CEO of the Israel Small and Medium Enterprise Authority. He told us he had participated in an OECD conference entitled Road to Recovery, which stressed the importance of small businesses in economic recovery, and explained the role of the Authority in helping small businesses receive funding, training, and better regulatory conditions such as paying VAT on a cash basis.

Then we heard a regular participant in the Jasmine conferences, Dr. Lars Hansel of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, who impressed the audience by opening his talk with greetings in fluent Arabic, though he then continued in English. He spoke about the situation of women in Germany, where women are still paid 15% less than men, and constitute only 11% of board members. He noted two issues on the public agenda in Germany: gender diversity and pluralism, which contribute to companies' success; and arguments for and against a quota system. Supporters believe this is sometimes the only way to increase female participation, while opponents worry that women will be hired for reasons unrelated to their professional competence, and many women do not wish to be perceived as "token women" within an organization.

The next speaker was Yael German, Mayor of Herzliya. She is one of only 3 female mayors out of 71 mayors in Israel. She mentioned that only 15% of Israel's business owners are female, and stressed the importance of vision, decision taking, and optimism for women's success.

Billy Shapira, Director-General and Vice President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told us of her career development in the administration of the university. She noted that women constitute a majority of students and administrative staff, but only 22% of the academic staff. She attributed this partly to women's tendency to give in too easily, and said she had never encountered a "glass ceiling" in her career.

Yoav Zilca, CEO of Mentor Me, spoke about success, using terms whose initials created the Hebrew word success: decision (successful people decide quickly and change decisions slowly), growth (personal development and lifelong learning), faith (to overcome fear), vision, and persistence.

Next was a presentation about the Cartier Women's Initiative Award, by Israeli businesswoman Galia Albin, who has been a past juror for the award, and Freja Day, the award's project leader, who explained that each year three female entrepreneurs are selected as finalists from each of the five continents, and they receive coaching, then present their businesses to the jury, and one winner is selected from each continent. The winners receive $20,000, one year of coaching, networking opportunities, and media exposure. The presentation was aimed at encouraging Israeli business women to apply for the award, and it would certainly be an inspiration if one of the Jasmine members reached the finals.

The next talk was by Daniel Homyonfer of Hynon, about succeeding in international markets, and the importance of obtaining relevant information about the society and business atmosphere, for example through the local Chambers of Commerce.

Then, social media expert Hadas Adler spoke about social networks and the importance of providing free, useful content to form a personal brand and encourage followers to seek out your paying products.

The final lecture before lunch was by public relations expert Barak Rom, who spoke about the importance of achieving media exposure by combining professional knowledge with current events and offering to speak to the media, and publishing relevant content on social networks.

After lunch, the first speaker was Dr. Eyal Doron, who had created a television show about happiness, and gave an interesting talk about the research he explored for this purpose. He defined happiness as a moderate, positive, long-lasting emotion, stressing that happiness is not the same thing as pleasure, and should contain an element of meaning. People are happier when their work is a mission, giving meaning to their lives, rather than just a job (for money) or a career (for status). He also spoke about success, noting the importance of bringing up children to think independently and to practice their skills.

Next there was a panel of businesswomen, entitled "Succeeding against all odds". It was chaired by Iman Qasis, who stated that it is better to take risks than to avoid them. Dr. Amal Ayoub, CEO of Metallo Therapy, told us of her journey from studying physics to founding a start-up business dedicated to using nano-particles of gold for cancer treatments. She deserves to become a role model for young women embarking upon a scientific career. Alona Shechter overcame psoriasis and founded a successful cosmetics business. Julia Zahar inherited her husband's tahina factory in Nazareth and had to struggle as a woman in a traditional society. Natlia Corzon immigrated to Israel from Russia and started a business exporting cosmetics to Russia. The panel members answered a few questions from the audience.

Avishay Braverman, MK, Minister of Minority Affairs, spoke next. He argued that women are less narcissistic, more practical, and more organized than men, and hoped that women in Israel could bring the Jewish and Arab communities to get to know each other better. In Israel, the employment rate among Arab and Druze women is less than 20%, but he claimed this could not be for cultural reasons, since in Arab countries the rate is about 45%. His ministry is aiming to create more daycare facilities, better transport, and dedicated projects to enable Arab women to find employment. They are also devoting special budgets to higher education for the Arab sector, where there are already more female students than male.

The next speaker was another politician, Tsipi Livni, MK, Head of the Opposition. She told us that before entering politics, when she had her own law office, she did not feel there was any discrimination against her as a woman, but when she ran for Prime Minister in 2008, she encountered sexist reactions, but also widespread support from women. She encouraged Arab women to succeed, both for their own sakes, and also to become role models for others. She mentioned legislation aimed at providing appropriate representation for women on the boards of government companies, where there are currently only 3% female board members.

Yehuda Yizreel spoke about financial planning for businesses, stressing the importance of taking responsibility, saving for retirement, creating contracts for every business engagement, and so on.

Finally, business coach Osnat Rubin gave useful tips for business success.

The conference was enjoyable, but as in previous years, some talks started late, and some of the later speakers had to cut their talks short. The atmosphere of time pressure was not conducive to learning. I really hope this problem can be addressed by the organizers in future events, as I have attended several conferences that started on time and gave each speaker the allocated time. It can be done!

A new feature this year was the two prize raffles held immediately after lunch and at the end of the day. This was intended to get the audience back into the lecture hall after lunch, and to persuade everyone to stay until the end. The prizes included training and coaching sessions, and everyone was pleased to see that they were won by participants who would benefit from them.

I look forward to next year's conference.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My history of personal computers

This month marks twenty years since we bought our first computer. I thought some readers, especially the more geeky types, might be interested in my computing history.

First there came typewriters. As a child, I was fascinated by my parents' manual typewriters. They had different typewriters for three different languages: English, Hebrew, and Greek. When a document contained more than one language, they had to leave spaces on the page, then transfer the paper to another typewriter and calibrate it carefully to fill in the text in the other language.

When I was about seven or eight years old, my mother received a new typewriter and gave me the old one to play with. I was certain that my future self would write books on such a device. I learned to touch-type on a manual typewriter in Hebrew at junior high school (a course that was available only for girls, and I wonder if such sexism still exists), and taught myself to touch-type in English.

As I grew older, I became aware of the existence and growing importance of computers. My first real encounter with computers was when I was 18 and worked in the library at Tel Aviv University. One of my tasks was transferring the card catalog to a computerized system. It made me sad to see the card catalog disappear, and the library's computer system was, and to some extent still is, rather user-unfriendly.

When I started university, I typed a few papers on manual typewriters. Most people still gave in hand-written papers, and students were not expected to type their work (or get it typed professionally) until they had to submit a thesis.

Then, in November 1990, exactly twenty years ago, we decided to buy our own computer. Ivor had turned his M.A. thesis into a book, and was required to submit a camera-ready copy to the publisher. One of his requirements was a computer that had a Greek font with all the accents used in Ancient Greek (no, the Symbol font used for mathematics was not good enough). One day, he arrived at the university and saw signs advertising a demonstration of a new Macintosh computer. He went to see it, and fell in love. The computer was very compact (an important factor considering the size of our home at the time), could use the sort of fonts he needed, and was much more user-friendly than the DOS-based computers we had previously looked at. We checked how much money was in our bank account, and discovered we had just enough to buy the computer and a pin printer. We also had to ask a friend to give us a lift home in her car, since it would have been difficult to carry the boxes on the bus.

So, our first computer was a Macintosh SE30. It had 1 MB of RAM, which we soon expanded to the maximum 4 MB, and a 40 MB hard drive. It accepted 1.44 MB floppy disks, had a small black & white screen, and was, by today's standards, painfully slow. We loved it, and spent hours working and playing on it. We had a bi-lingual, bi-directional word processor, painting and drawing programs, a few games, and HyperCard, a program that let us experiment at creating links. The user interface was friendly and easy to learn, and we could create documents with text and pictures and print them on the pin printer. The camera-ready manuscript had to be printed out on a laser printer, and for this purpose we visited the Apple Center and paid to use one of their printers.

Since then, we have owned the following Macintosh computers: Color Classic II, LCII, Quadra 650, G3 Graphite iMac, Lime iBook, G4 Flatpanel iMac, eMac, MacBookPro. Each new computer had more advanced features than its predecessors. The screens grew larger, colour was introduced, the speed and memory of each model was more impressive, and soon we got a modem and connected to the Internet. The software we used also developed and changed over the years.

The Macintosh market share in Israel has always been smaller than in other countries. One of the reasons for this is the dominance of Microsoft. We soon learned that in other countries Microsoft made fully compatible localized Mac versions of MS Office, but in Israel they refused to do this for what they considered a negligible market segment. This is why Mac users in Israel have always had compatibility problems when sharing documents with the majority, PC-using world.

Many people also attribute the weakness of the Mac sector in Israel to its local distributors, first Yeda and then iDigital. Mac users thought the local distributors were not pushing hard enough to get Apple to promote its products in Israel and localize them quickly. However, it is possible that no Israeli distributor would be able to use sufficient leverage in negotiating with a powerful multi-national company.

Another example of how Apple still treats Israel as a less important market is the iTunes Store. Israeli iTunes account holders can currently buy apps (for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) in the app store, and download free content from the iTunes Store - podcasts and the free books available for iBooks (Apple's ebook reader). Israelis are not allowed, for reasons known only to Apple, to purchase music and video on the iTunes Store. For some reason, Israelis' money is good enough to pay for apps, but not for other content.

On the bright side, Mac computers have become much more common in Israel since the iPod and iPhone came out. Israelis are learning that the MacOS is easy to use, and the ability to run Windows on the Mac means they are getting two computers in one. It took a long time for the iPhone to be marketed in Israel, much longer than in some less westernized countries, but the iPad arrived here more quickly. Perhaps Apple is changing its approach to the Israeli market at last.

Now it's time to confess that I am no longer using a Mac as my main computer. My translating work has always required me to hand in Word documents. When the document was in English, I could use Word for Mac to create a PC-compatible document, but when it was in Hebrew I had to use whatever Mac word processor we had at the time and then convert the document to Word for Windows (usually this created an RTF document). Later, I was able to run Windows on my Macs using Virtual PC. As time went by, I realized I was spending much of my time using Windows, and while I still consider it inferior to the MacOS, I learned how to use it well enough.

Nearly four years ago, my new eMac started having problems and became unusable. At the time, I decided to buy a PC, and have since been using a desktop PC running Windows XP. I have adapted to using PC software, and still sometimes use Ivor's Macs.

I cannot imagine my life now without computers and technology, and will always be grateful for that first discovery of the Mac SE30 twenty years ago that started my personal computer journey.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Networking For Translators

This article was first published in Targima, the journal of the Israel Translators Association, in October 2010, and is republished here with permission.

Networking for Translators

Ruth Ludlam

Having just completed four years of membership in a networking group, I would like to share some networking advice with my fellow translators. First I will provide some tips that anyone can use, and then discuss networking groups.
The premise behind networking is that each person is the hub of a net of other people. Networking happens when two individuals talk about their needs and think of ways to help each other through their networks of contacts. Ultimately, networking is a mutual experience, but sometimes it works indirectly rather than as a simple exchange. Successful networking is based on an attitude of giving. Instead of meeting people and trying to sell your services to them, think of how you can help them with their own needs.
The first step in successful networking is knowing how to present yourself. Take some time to think about how you would explain to a new acquaintance what you do for a living and what sort of customers or contacts you are looking for. Describe what sort of problems you solve, or what needs you satisfy, for your customers. Focus on the specific sort of work you want to do most.
Make sure all your relatives and friends know exactly how you like to present yourself, so they can listen out for opportunities for you and identify potential customers of the sort you are looking for. Take any chance to talk about your profession, even at social events. This is not inappropriate, since you are aiming to help people who may need your services. Our professional identity is an important part of who we are.
Always carry with you the essential tools: business cards, diary, address book, and pen. Today many people’s diary and address book are on their mobile phones, but it is important to carry a pen anyway. Business cards should look professional and contain basic contact details: name, profession, phone number, email address, and website. As translators, we may want to have bilingual cards. Always give people two business cards, saying: “One for you and one for you to give to someone else who may be interested”. You should also create a consistent system for filing business cards you receive. Some people scan them or type the information into a database; others file the cards themselves in folders or boxes.
When meeting a new person, remember to listen and ask questions. Some good questions to ask a professional you have just met: How did you get into this line of work? What do you enjoy most about what you do? What sort of contacts are you interested in meeting? And, most importantly: How can I help you? Then take their business card, and make some notes (either on the card or in a notebook, diary, or on your phone), recording where and when you met the person, and if you promised to do something for them, such as introduce them to a contact or send them some information.
Then, within the next 1-2 days, follow up. This is the most important stage in networking, and many people neglect it. The follow-up can be a phone call or email. Introduce yourself again, saying where you met, and if you promised to help, this is the time to deliver. One meeting does not make someone into a contact, and the relationship has to be developed and nurtured.
Sometimes, when meeting new people, you can already arrange a further meeting with them for a later date. This is why you need to carry your diary at all times. If you know you want a meeting, the sooner you make a firm appointment, the better. Then call to confirm the meeting the day before.
Attend meetings of professional bodies (like the ITA) and more general meetings, such as Chamber of Commerce meetings, and any conferences or lectures that interest you. I have found that many business people at these events consider translating an interesting occupation. At these meetings, wear your name tag on the upper right side of your chest, since when people shake hands, their gaze tracks from the shaking hands along the right arm, up to the name tag, then to the face. Never wear a name tag at waist level, as this is not a part of the body most people want strangers staring at!
Finally, for a more serious networking education, join a dedicated networking group. For four years, I was a member of the Haifa Chapter of BNI (Business Network International). The group contains one representative of each occupation, and members try to bring in new customers for each other. The group meets each week for a breakfast meeting. Members learn how to present their business and to interact with other professionals.
I learned a lot from my time in BNI. I started out rather shy and introverted, and gradually gained confidence in public speaking. My fellow members gave me useful feedback on my presentation of my occupation. Obviously, I made many useful contacts with a large number of local professionals from all walks of life. I also filled the various leadership roles within the Chapter, and even served as the President, chairing the meetings and running the group. This experience of leadership taught me a lot about myself, and would have been difficult to obtain in my normal position as a self-employed freelancer.
Networking groups are not for everyone. Membership requires a serious commitment to attend the weekly meetings and find customers for fellow members, and a willingness to learn and change. Most members cover the cost of membership, and more, from the referrals they receive. For two of the four years of my membership, referrals accounted for a third of my income. If you feel this might suit you, attend one meeting of your local group. You can find details of the BNI groups around the country at www.bni.co.il. There are also other similar networking organizations.

Ruth Ludlam is a translator specializing in academic material in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Heb-Eng and Eng-Heb).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stever Robbins - Get-It-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More

Stever Robbins, Get-It-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More, St. Martin's Griffin, 2010.

I have been listening to the author's podcast, "Get-It-Done Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More" for a while, and when this book was published, I knew I wanted to read it.

This is useful and practical guide to making the most of the time we have for the things we have to do, and those we want to do. It can be applied to work life and personal life, which can become rather mixed-up for those of us who work from home.

The book deals with people's attitudes and mindset, which must change when they decide to become more efficient. It also gives easy steps to apply the desired changes.

Where relevant, the book offers a choice between different options to suit individual styles. For example, readers can choose whether they prefer to be contacted by phone or by email. However, on some points the author has a clear opinion, supported by evidence. So, he explains why multitasking does not increase productivity, but actually decreases it (pp. 90-93). This may not surprise some readers, but there has been a popular trend encouraging multitasking that did not sufficiently value the different sorts of energy and concentration required for various tasks.

Many of the lessons of this book are ones I have been learning and applying myself over the years. I have learned to say "no" to work I don't want or don't feel qualified to do. Like Stever, I keep a handwritten to-do list on my desk. I have found what works best for me in many of the situations described in the book. I continue to learn and experiment, and this book is part of my journey of discovery and improvement.

The writing is entertaining, with Stever's sense of humour apparent in the examples. But the underlying message of the book is serious, and readers who want to improve their use of time will benefit from using this book (and the podcast).