Welcome to THE BALANCE PROJECT: a series of relevant and refreshingly candid interviews featuring inspiring and accomplished women talking about balance. I’ve always been curious—and maybe a little obsessed—about how women I admire manage the tragically glorified “doing it all” craze. So I asked them. As I suspected, no one really does “it all.” Everyone’s making sacrifices somewhere. And that should make us all feel a little better. I hope the conversation will be steered toward that reality rather than toward the flawed and dangerous assumption that we should try—or even want to try—to perfectly do “it all.”


  • Looking for THE BALANCE PROJECT, the novel that was inspired by these interviews? It’s here.
  • The Balance Project interview series recently celebrated its first birthday!
  • Fortune ran a feature about The Balance Project.
  • Want to be a part of The Balance Project? Complete the interview.

No. 80: Marisa de los Santos, Novelist

Age: 48
Where I live:
 Wilmington, Delaware
Job: Novelist
a daughter, Annabel (13), and a son, Charles (15)

Photo by Tisa Della-Volpe

Photo by Tisa Della-Volpe

Have you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
I used to be an assistant professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Delaware, but after I signed the contract for my second novel, I left teaching to write full time. The transition was much easier than I’d expected. While it required a shift in managing my time and, to some extent, my finances—because novelists get paid sporadically and in relatively big chunks as opposed to a paycheck every two weeks—there really wasn’t an identity adjustment because I’d always considered myself as primarily a writer, even when I wasn’t making a living as one.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
I think it’s worth thinking hard about what “all” means to you personally. For me, it’s having a thriving, happy marriage and family life, a handful of very close friends, a career I’m passionate about, and enough financial security to not worry about money constantly and to splurge on fun now and then. I also want to give something good to the world. I don’t need to make a huge splash, but I’d like to add to the collective goodness. When I take the time to step back and look at my life, which I don’t do often enough, I think I do have it all, and I’m grateful. I love my job and the people in my life so much.

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
I’m a natural worrier, a huge worrier, the kind who wakes up at 3:00 AM in a cold sweat over all manner of things, many of which are entirely out of my control. I worry an awful lot about my children. Even though intellectually I know that my kids are lucky, happy people—healthy, going to good schools, playing sports that they love, living in a safe neighborhood—I am so tuned in to them emotionally, to all the daily, hourly ups and downs, that too often, I fail to keep perspective. They don’t get invited to a party or don’t get the grade they were hoping for or don’t get the time they wanted in the 100 backstroke—all the normal, growing-up disappointments—all of it hits me much harder than I think is helpful to anyone. I try to get some emotional distance, to take it in stride, but it’s a tremendous struggle.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I’m getting more disciplined about my job. I am so grateful to be able to write for a living, and I am most at home in my life, most bone-deep satisfied when I’m fully immersed in a novel. But writing is hard. You have to bring your best, most tuned-in, wide-awake self to it. And it can be frustrating and exhausting. Going to the grocery store, doing laundry, cooking, going to lunch with friends, exercising, even doing volunteer work can be much easier and even more immediately rewarding. So I’ve had to get tougher with myself, to set daily concrete writing goals and put other things aside in order to achieve them. I’m getting better, but I still have to check in with myself pretty often. If, for instance, I catch myself folding the laundry while it’s almost too warm to handle, I know I’m procrastinating!

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance?
From a mentor/co-worker? “Don’t read reviews. And if you can’t help but read them, don’t take them too much to heart, even the good ones, maybe especially the good ones. Because your only hope of pleasing your readers is to not make pleasing them the priority, to listen only to your characters and your plot and to stay true to your book.”
From your mother? “Don’t change things about yourself that you value in order to get people to like you.” This was true in middle school, and it’s true now. Also, “When you’re down, put on a little lipstick.”
From your spouse? “Don’t worry so much because worrying usually doesn’t help and it makes you miserable and most crises turn out to be far less dire than you think they’ll be.” I wish I could say I follow this advice consistently.
From your kids? “Don’t yell all the time because when you yell all the time, we stop hearing you. Be like Dad and just yell once in awhile—but very loudly.” I wish I could say I follow this advice consistently (or at all).

If you had one extra hour in each day and you couldn’t work or be with your family, how would you spend that hour?
I would probably exercise, preferably outdoors, because I know that’s what I should do, but secretly, I’d rather spend the hour sitting on the sofa with my dogs watching a Law and Order or Foyle’s War rerun.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
Only spend your time and heart on people who add richness to your life and make you better.

What do you hope to know by the time you’re 60?
To worry less, plunge myself heedlessly into joy more.

What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Cooking. When I have time, I actually enjoy cooking, but most of the time, I’m in a rush, and there’s just nothing fun about it.

Whose job do you wish you had?
I wouldn’t trade with anyone permanently, but I’d definitely be the ballerina Misty Copeland for a year. I’d love to put the kind of faith in my physicality that she does, to be so fully embodied, so steely and graceful and hard-working, and I’d love to wear tutus for a living.

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
I’d hate any job that involves doing math on a regular basis.

Favorite books?
Everything by Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, E.M. Forster, Kent Haruf, and the books that meant the world to me when I was a kid: Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Quartet and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series.

What are you reading right now?
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby.

Biggest vices…
I slow down when someone is tailgating me, just to annoy the other driver.
Food? Really good French fries. Never leave me alone with your fries.
Website? Zappos. Insomnia and Zappos are a dangerous combination.

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
Six and a half, with a couple of three to four hour nights thrown in every week.

What do you read every morning?
The New York Times, paper edition. The Tuesday Science section is my favorite.

Complete the following sentences:
I think I: should watch more movies.
I wish I: liked olives and had long eyelashes.
My kids: make me laugh every single day.

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
“Only connect!” (I did not make this up).

PastedGraphic-2PastedGraphic-2UnknownAbout Marisa:
Marisa de los Santos is the New York Times bestselling author of four novels for adults, most recently, The Precious One, and the middle grade novel Saving Lucas Biggs, which she co-wrote with her husband David Teague. She and David live in Wilmington, Delaware with their children, Charles and Annabel, and their two Yorkies.

Find out more about Marisa here:
Twitter: @marisadlsantos
Facebook: marisa.delossantos.writer
Instagram: marisadls



Related Posts
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 1: Jessica Mindich, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 2: Veronica Beard, Fashion Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 3: Emily Liebert, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 4: Lyss Stern, Mom-trepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 5: Lauren Slayton, Nutritionist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 6: Elizabeth Moyer, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 7: Annabel Monaghan, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 8: Holly Gordon, Director
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 9: Jill Salzman, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 10: Jennifer Levinson, Jen’s List
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 11: Jenny Hutt, Media Personality
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 12: Angela Santomero, Kids’ Media Creator
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 13: Carola Donato, Yogi
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 14: Tiffany Washington, Pastry Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 15: Emily Giffin, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 16: Alana Sanko, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 17: Cara Lemieux, Journalist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 18: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke, Authors
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 19: Nikki Mark, Author & Foundation Director
Shonda Rhimes on Doing It All
Indra Nooyi on Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 21: Jill Bryan, Comedian
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 22: Cindy Callaghan, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 23: Stephanie Hirsch, Artist
My Times of India Interview on Work-Life Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 24: Whitney Dineen, Author/Baker
AmEx’s Sobbott on Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 25: J0-Laine Duke-Collins, Dessert Stylist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 26: Whitney English, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 27: Jennifer Gooch Hummer, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 28: Melissa Amster, Book Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 29: Nigel Marsh, Author and Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 30: DayNa Decker, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 31: Amy Selling, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 32: Heather Sonnenberg, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 33: Allison Winn Scotch, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 34: Bibi Kasrai, Entrepreneur and Chef
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 35: Karen Sutton MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 36: Samantha Ettus, Balance Expert, Author, TV/Radio Personality
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 37: Pam Yudko, Holistic Health and Transformational Coach
THE BALANCE PROJECT| No. 38: Nancy Huang, Nonprofit Outreach Director
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 39: Mary Laura Philpott, Writer, Editor and Illustrator
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 40: Towanda Long, Marketing Communications Specialist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 41: Kristyn Kusek Lewis, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 42: Tracy Pollan, Actor and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 43: Christianne Phillips, Fitness Consultant and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 44: Susannah Lewis, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 45: Kimi Culp, Producer, Author and Creative Consultant
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 46: Traci Bild, Entrepreneur
The Balance Project Interview Series Turns 1!
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 47: Laura Vanderkam, Journalist and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 48: Amy Tara Koch, Style Expert and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 49: Cozy Friedman, Kids’ Hair Expert
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 50: Bobbii Hach-Jacobs, Music Promoter
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 51: Niketa Jhaveri, Game Creator and Web Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 52: Sheri Silver, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 53: Lori Pollan, Cookbook Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 54: Chatón Turner, Attorney and Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 55: Joanne Wilson, Investor and Blogger
HE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 56: Nicola Kraus, Author and Creative Coach
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 57: Shiri Sarfati, Marketing Expert
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 58: Audrey McClelland, Entrepreneur and Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 59: Jessica Lahey, Writer and Teacher
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 60: Lindsay Bressler, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 61: Marie Claire Lim Moore, Banker, Author and Speaker
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 62: Stacey Ballis, Novelist and Cookbook Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 63: Amy Hochhauser: Co-Founder, JoyRide Cycling Studio
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 64: Molly Sims, Actress, Author and Humanitarian
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 65: Colleen Oakley, Writer and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 66: Nichole Montoya, CEO of Cheddar Up
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 67: Eileen Palma, Author and Instructor
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 68: Adina Grigore, Founder of S.W. Basics
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 69: Dana Pollan, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 70: Melissa Hawks, Owner, The Well Appointed House
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 71: Emily Greenspan, Art Consultant
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 72: Michelle Hodges, Software Executive and See Girl Be Founder
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 73: Kendra Basner Mallen, Attorney
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 74: Alysa Bajenaru, Dietitian and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 75: Anita Shepherd, Founder of Anita’s Yogurt
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 76: Dana Marlowe, President of IT Consulting Firm
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 77: Jill Royster, Marketing Consultant
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 78: Debra Olshan Cooper, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 79: Zainab Zaki, Technology Product Manager