I'm going with hindrance. Studying literature and studying writing are separate things and I think sometimes what we may learn in lit classes can contaminate us as writers. This is based on my own experience as I've encountered a number of lit instructors who were so rigid in interpretation and in what is considered literature that it turned me off some certain books (screw Steinbeck and Dickens). I wouldn't classify any of the books undergrad instructors had required as essential reading for writers. Ethan Frome? Please. This isn't to say that reading isn't important in becoming a writer. No. You need to read everything you can find, that means even holding your nose to read Steinbeck.

Plus, lit classes teach (at least those who pay attention) that there is a hierarchy in literature, with genre writing somewhere around grocery lists and ransom notes. That whole litfic versus genre fiction fight begins here. If you want to get rid of constant discussion, you need to kill it at the source.

And another thing: I truly believe that a lot of people are turned off from reading by lit classes. If I hadn't already been a bookworm and knew that there was so much great stuff outside of the classroom, I don't know if I would be a writer today. But think of the people whose first experience with reading is from these classes. No wonder reading and book buying are on the decline.

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One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from a creative writing instructor was: read the classics, but read what's out there now.

Literature courses CANNOT hurt. Reading good new work or even current trash doesn't hurt either.
Literature courses cannot hurt, but a poor literature teacher can, as others have suggested.

I teach American Lit 1865-present AND Detective Fiction at my college. In the American Lit course, we read Dash Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" (the week before we tackle TS Eliot) and in Detective Fiction we read Dickens (Drood, of course) and Faulkner along with great 'genre' writers.
I'd go with help--it sure helped me. I have a bachelor's degree in English.

One, it was a place to read a lot of different things. Two, I had to write papers, and writing is always good practice for writers. Three, when I was performing literary criticism, it taught me that what the reader gets out of the work may be more or less than what the author intended, which made the author seem that much more of a person and the job of a writer that much more possible.

And fourth, and most important, the study of literature is like any liberal art: if done right, it teaches students how to learn. I couldn't be writing mysteries now if I didn't continue to learn about all kinds of bizarre things. (The last book I wrote includes background on pinup queens and TV cowboys, and I had to learn about both.)

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