When Jake Tapper became a national sensation during the lead-up to the 2016 election, he spawned a lot of admirers. The whole of the Internet seemed to be simultaneously charmed by his onscreen charisma and in awe of his take-no-prisoners-or-bullsh— approach to covering one of the most bonkers times in our nation’s history. Since then, the longtime news anchor and host of CNN’s The Lead and State of the Union has spawned memes and many a dedicated Saturday Night Live spoof all focused on one critical question: How does he do it?
And now, Tapper is adding another notch to his résumé, with the publication of his political thriller novel The Hellfire Club. Yes, in between shooting six shows a week for millions of viewers, he carved out the time to write 350-plus pages about the secret backroom dealings of 1950s Washington, D.C. (What have you done?) The tome, which is based on very real secret societies and the actions of a few very real politicians, follows freshman congressman Charlie Marder as he quickly finds himself descending into the abyss of Capitol Hill. It’s a wonderfully juicy conspiracy theory full of cover-ups, sabotage, and pretty much everything you’re missing now that Scandal is off the air.
But in more important matters, the publication of this book also gives Tapper fans the opportunity to mine the newscaster-slash-author for all sorts of life advice. Tapper visited EW’s L.A. offices to share the most important do’s and don’ts of his career — follow these tips and you just might spawn the next #HotDebateGuy.
DO be an architect
Tapper admitted that he’d been kicking around the idea for The Hellfire Club for three to four years before he put pen to paper on the final draft. But he never could have gotten it off the ground without his trusty outline.
“I have a friend who talks about how, when it comes to the creative process, you’re either a gardener or an architect,” he explains. “I’m definitely an architect. I knew that I needed the architecture of the outline there. That was the most exhausting part of writing the book.”
DON’T be afraid to make things up
And no, we’re not talking about fake news here. This is fiction, people, and Jake Tapper wants you to know it’s okay to embrace that.
“My job, in general, is nonfiction so writing fiction was liberating,” he says. “If you can’t find the answer to something, you just make it up!”
DO write every day
“I’m an everyday guy — I’m a try-to-write-at-least-15-minutes-every-day-if-not-an-hour-or-two kind of guy. I write in Google docs, so that wherever you go you have access to it. Every time you’re in an airport or on an airplane, write a little. I’m definitely the kind of person where an idea just pops into my head. I’ll excuse myself from a conversation or run into another room so I can write it down.”
Sorry, anyone who wants a body like Jake Tapper’s, because it comes at a price. Despite his long hours spent at his laptop cranking away at The Hellfire Club, he stays away from mindful imbibing.
“I’m trying to stay thin because I’m on TV, so almonds and bourbon would be about as crazy as I get,” he admits of his favorite writing snack. “Not mixed in the same concoction, but a couple almonds and a glass of bourbon would be my go-to.”
DO live by the motto “No days off”
What does Jake Tapper do when he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed? Nothing.
“I don’t really have the ability to do that,” he says of off days. “There are times when I’m not at 100 percent, especially because I have a six-day-a-week schedule. I’ll do two or three of those in a row and then I’ll take a Sunday off. As we approach that Sunday off, my brain is not at 100 percent so I’ll mess up words but I still have to be there.”
DON’T think you can be Jake Tapper by sleeping in
“I get up whenever my children decide I should get up. Normally it would be at seven, but my kids are always awake at, like, 6:30, because apparently when you’re a kid you don’t like sleep.”
DO have pre- and post-show rituals
Having one of the most successful shows on CNN doesn’t come from luck. It comes from routine and the occasional protein shake.
“I talk to my executive producer about what we’re going to cover that day,” explains Tapper of his pre-show ritual. “We’ve already talked on the phone a few times, but in this administration the news changes so much. Whereas when we started doing the show in 2013 there would be shows like, how are we gonna fill an hour today? I don’t have any superstitions but I do say ‘good show’ like they did on Sports Night. I do this stupid thing where I give a ‘beep’ to every crew member, and for State of the Union it’s a little different, I give a Star Wars laser. You know, because it’s Sunday. And after the show I have a protein shake.”
DON’T have nerves
“I don’t really get nervous anymore, unless there’s a big interview. Before James Comey last week, I was nervous. Not nervous like I was gonna mess it up, but it’s an important person and an important moment and it’s 30 minutes of live television with no breaks. And the presidential debates were nerve-wracking.”