Professional Writing Program

Office of Advanced and Professional Programs
Mark Taper Hall 355
(213) 740-1384
FAX: (213) 740-5002

Director: Brighde Mullins, MFA

Lecturers: Nancy Cohen, M.A.; Prince Gomolvilas, MFA; Danay Goodyear; M.G. Lord; Dinah Lenney, MFA; Gina B. Nahai, MPW

The Master of Professional Writing Program develops students’ mastery of craft across multiple genres and prepares students for writing careers. It is designed for students who want to explore a range of writerly possibilities, and aims to develop writing and writers across genre, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, new media, and writing for stage and screen. Program faculty are working writers who bring their expertise to seminars, lectures and workshops.

The academic curriculum includes a range of courses that focus on all aspects of the writing life, as well as one-on-one tutorials geared to the completion of a professional quality final project. Although students will ultimately focus in one genre, the degree is specifically intended for writers interested in exploring the connections to be found in literature, entertainment and art. Program graduates include television writers, screenwriters, writers and teachers of literary fiction and poetry, Web content providers and designers, editors, publishers, and technical writers.

Admission Requirements

Admission to the program is competitive and is based on the following: possession of a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university with a minimum 3.0 GPA; respectable scores on the General Test of the Graduate Record Examinations; three letters of recommendation; a writing sample including at least 20 original pages. Applicants focusing in poetry or writing for stage and screen must also submit a short prose sample of at least five original pages; this may be a college paper, essay or excerpt of short fiction. Campus visits during regularly scheduled open-houses are encouraged, but not required.

Degree Requirements

Thirty units of work are required to earn the MPW degree. MPW 500 Survey of Professional Writing (3 units) is required and should be taken in the first semester. Fifteen additional units must be earned in the student’s major genre (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or writing for stage and screen), including MPW 592abz Professional Writing Project or MPW 594abz Master’s Thesis. While taking Professional Writing Project or Master’s Thesis, with advisement from their faculty mentors, students will generate their master’s professional projects in their respective genres. These projects may be a full length novel, a collection of short stories, a nonfiction manuscript, a collection of essays, a collection of poems, or a full length screenplay or stageplay. The remaining 12 units consist of electives from the MPW curriculum, and students are encouraged to choose widely.

Progressive Degree Program in Master of Professional Writing

The progressive degree program permits exceptional undergraduate students to receive both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Professional Writing within five years. It is intended for students with extraordinary MPW preparation and performance who demonstrate a superior level of overall scholarship.


Applicants may apply after the completion of 64 units of course work applicable to their undergraduate degree since graduating from high school. (AP units, IB units and course work taken prior to high school graduation are excluded). Applicants must submit their applications before completing 96 units of course work. Normally, the application is submitted in the fall semester of the third year of enrollment at USC. The application for admission to a progressive degree program must be accompanied by a departmentally approved course plan proposal and two letters of recommendation from USC faculty members in the Master of Professional Writing program.

Awarding of Degrees

Progressive degree program students must fulfill all of the requirements for both the bachelor’s degree and the master’s degree, including a professional writing project or a master’s thesis. The unit requirement for the master’s degree can be reduced by as much as one-third. The degrees may be awarded separately, but the master’s degree will not be awarded before the undergraduate degree.

Time Limits

The time limit for completing a progressive degree program is 12 semesters.

Further details about progressive degrees can be found here.

Courses of Instruction

Professional Writing Program (MPW)

The terms indicated are expected but are not guaranteed. For the courses offered during any given term, consult the Schedule of Classes.

MPW 500 Survey of Professional Writing (3) Analysis of genres, characteristics of narration, stylistic editing, and the role of the writer in contemporary society. Required of all MPW majors. (Duplicates credit in former MPW 900.)

MPW 510 Writers and their Influences (3) Exploration of the notion of influence and its effect on generating new writing.

MPW 511 Oral History: Witness and Writing (1, max 3) Transforming oral history into works of fiction and nonfiction, with emphasis on honoring the source material in the construction of an original narrative.

MPW 512 Writer’s Marketplace (3) A cross-genre investigation of publishing and the marketplace, with the goal of familiarizing students with the practical aspects of writing and selling creative work. (Duplicates credit in former MPW 910.)

MPW 515 Functional Writing for the Marketplace (3) Practical writing and editing skills, language mechanics, and document development techniques that can be applied to reports, grants/proposals, brochures, resumes, and other workplace materials. (Duplicates credit in former MPW 950.)

MPW 520 Writing Humor: Literary and Dramatic (3) Analysis of the specifics of humor — wit, irony, satire, parody and farce — through examples taken from various genres; discussion/workshop on incorporating humor in students’ work. (Duplicates credit in former MPW 915.)

MPW 525 Nonfiction Strategies in Poetry and Prose (3) A workshop devoted to shared concerns and possibilities in poems and essays, and to the development of skills as enhanced by nonfiction techniques.

MPW 526 Writing the Review (1, max 3) An investigation of the evolving role of the critic, focused on reviews as essays, and criticism as essential to a rich popular culture and conversation.

MPW 527 Mash-Ups: New Ways to Tell Stories (1, max 3) An examination of innovative storytelling, in which old and new media in tandem can extend our narrative capabilities, and connect us across the world.

MPW 530 Techniques of Fiction Writing (3) A nuts and bolts approach to craft, aiming to identify the requisite tools, and to develop skills necessary for writing vivid and convincing fiction.

MPW 535 Literature and Approaches to Writing the Novel (3) Discussion and analysis of literary classics and their influences as applicable to the writing of today’s novel; development of book-length fiction. (Duplicates credit in former MPW 940.)

MPW 537 Fiction Writing Workshop (3, max 9) Development and analysis of book-length fiction; concentration on narration, characterization, point of view, and clarity of style. (Duplicates credit in former MPW 960.)

MPW 538 Approaches to Writing the Novel (1, max 3) A survey of literary classics, focusing on recurring techniques, with the goal of identifying strategies to inform the student’s approach to narrative and craft.

MPW 540 Nonfiction Writing (3, max 6) The investigation of various forms in the genre, with attention to the literary value of thinking and making connections on the page.

MPW 541 The Nonfiction Experience (3, max 6) Introduction to nonfiction from reviewing to reporting to the personal essay, with a view towards creating the community essential in the solitary writer’s life.

MPW 542 Writing About Place (3, max 6) An exploration of environment as it informs literature, fiction and nonfiction, with the understanding that a vivid evocation of place will enrich prose across genres.

MPW 543 Writing Science (3, max 6) Introduction to science writing with a view towards broadening approaches to story-telling in all genres.

MPW 544 New Media: Writing Online (3, max 6) An examination of literary forms online. Students will emulate great print stylists, shaping narrative and cultivating voice with the possibilities of new media in mind.

MPW 545 Memoir Writing (3, max 6) A workshop designed to hone voice, and determine the best way to approach personal narrative in cultural and historical contexts.

MPW 546 The Personal Essay (3, max 6) A look at first-person narrative, from memoir to criticism, with a view towards cultivating favorite writerly strategies, and then trying less comfortable forms.

MPW 547 Selling the Nonfiction Book (3, max 6) From the proposal to the outline, a comprehensive look at selling a book-length work of nonfiction, including the completion of a first chapter and promotional précis.

MPW 552 Principles of Poetic Techniques (3, max 6) Beginning analysis and practice of poetic technique, including language and imagery; forms, devices, and conventions; developing voice; use of both traditional and open forms. (Duplicates credit in former MPW 970.)

MPW 554 Poetry Hybrids (3, max 6) Writing and reading poetry in combination with other genres. Forms may include prose poem, verse drama, verse novel, and epic.

MPW 557 Advanced Poetry Writing (3, max 6) Advanced topics in poetry, including wide reading in contemporary poets. Emphasis on the development of the individual voice and subject matter. (Duplicates credit in former MPW 980.)

MPW 560 Principles of Dramatic Structure (3, max 6) Analysis of techniques in preparing scripts for various media; practice in adapting materials from non-dramatic forms. (Duplicates credit in former MPW 920.)

MPW 561 Writing for Stage and Screen (3, max 6) A workshop that examines the art and craft of writing for stage and screen.

MPW 562 Story Conference (3, max 6) Writing the play, teleplay or screenplay, focusing on character development and scene structure, in collaboration with the workshop. (Duplicates credit in former MPW 930.)

MPW 567 Screenplay Workshop (3, max 6) Reading and viewing films with an eye toward the development and completion of the first 45–60 pages of an original screenplay.

MPW 568 Screenwriting across Genres (3, max 6) An investigation of varieties of storytelling through creative responses to both screenplay and non-screenplay forms.

MPW 575 In the Room: The Craft of Television Writing (1, 3, max 6) Introduction to television writing, from pitching to polishing, with all the responsibilities of a staff writer.

MPW 585 Seminar in Professional Writing (1 or 3, max 6) Seminar and workshop with adjustable focus on aspects of professional and creative writing in relation to the literary marketplace.

MPW 589 Internship: Writers in the Field (1-3, max 3) Practical experience in the writing world. Enables students to acquire skills and knowledge that cannot be gained in the classroom. Graded CR/NC.

MPW 590 Directed Research (1-3, max 9) Research leading to the master’s degree. Maximum units which may be applied to the degree to be determined by the program director. Graded CR/NC.

MPW 592abz Professional Writing Project (3-3-0) Supervised preparation of a full-length manuscript in student’s major concentration: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or writing for stage and screen. Credit upon completion of project. Graded IP/CR/NC.

MPW 594abz Master’s Thesis (2-2-0) Credit on acceptance of thesis. Graded CR/NC.

MPW 599 Special Topics (2-4, max 8) Studies in specific genres, techniques or aspects of the writing craft.