One of the questions I get asked most as a writer is, “How are you able to write with five kids?”

I’ll admit my life is chaos sometimes. Juggling the busy lives of five kids and an overworked husband can be demanding. When I get this question, I don’t always know how to answer.

I’m not sure I have a great answer except to say that I have a schedule and I stick to it. Religiously.

My goal is to write 1,000 words a day.

I’ve had this goal for the past nine years. I’m currently writing my 16th novel.

Sounds easy, right? Just set a goal and stick to it. But there’s more to it than that. You’ve got to hack your brain to make sure you’re reaching that goal everyday. Here are a few hacks I’ve picked up over the course of 9 years:

HACK #1: Pick a writing time.

Pick your writing time and stick to it. I like to start writing at 9AM everyday. Once this became a habit, my kids soon learned I was busy during that time, and they found ways to entertain themselves. I would write during 20 minute sprints, then take 5 minute breaks and interact with my kiddos. This didn’t always go to plan, but as I stuck to it, the schedule became ingrained into our heads until it became our lifestyle.

HACK #1: Take care of yourself.

I don’t function when I’m tired. I learned that writing was difficult, if not impossible, when I’m exhausted. Make it a point to go to bed early so your mind will be ready to write. Get enough water and exercise. I’ve found that if I exercise in the morning before I write, I’m able to get words on the page much quicker and reach that 1,000 word goal faster.

HACK #3 Outline. Outline. Outline.

Sorry to my panster friends out there, but I’m a big advocate of outlining books before diving in to write them. If you don’t want to get stuck in that writer’s block trap halfway through your novel, you’d be smart to start with an outline. It doesn’t need to be hundreds of pages–it doesn’t even need to be 20 pages, but it should at least detail the beginning inciting incident, the first act including plot point one, the second act including the midpoint, and the third act including the climax and denouement (or resolution). If this is all Greek to you, pick up William Bernhardt’s STORY STRUCTURE, which will explain this in an easy-to-read manner. It’s the smartest 99 cents you’ll ever spend.

HACK #4: Do what works best for you.

After attending several dozen conferences and meeting hundreds of writers, I’ve learned that we’re all different. What works for me doesn’t work for everyone. Some writers find their brains work better at night. Some do better writing on weekends. Some prefer never to outline a thing and they do just fine without it. (Although I’d argue their first draft is their outline.) You have to discover what method of writing works best for your life and your schedule. You may have to wake up an hour earlier to fit in writing time. You may find you’re spending too much time on social media, and able to step away from it and steal an hour of writing time. We’ve all got our challenges. For me, writing is freeing, and I suppose that’s why I need it for my sanity every single day.