The need to write an essay in academia to show one's understanding of a given topic or subject can not be underestimated, in any area. The academic arena has been balanced on the ability of its professionals and students to accurately research, write and present written content, which is both of the author's opinion and that of other like minded (or not) writers/researchers that have gone before them. Writing in the education world does require you to be creative and that you are willing to learn the actual skill of writing on your chosen topic.
As you progress through your course, your writing will become increasingly better, and this is because you are practicing through writing, as well as looking at other people's writing, through reading their content and understanding how sentences and written pieces, in the academic world, come together.
When you are writing your papers, you should look towards having a general understanding of the topic, ensuring that your reader know this, but also ensuring that you have your 'footprint' and style of writing on the actual written content. You will learn to understand when to add your own argument or opinion to something, and constructively; the main point to remember, is that you are offering your own personal view that is backed up by other academics/scholars.
If you are laid back and not enthusiastic about what you are writing, then this will show in your paper. You want to have a positive and continual tone in your paper, and don't want to place bias, or cause disruption in the flow of the paper - this will always confuse and bewilder your reader, which is not something that you will want to do. Additionally, when reading your paper, the reader should be convinced and persuaded by your arguments to further investigate the primary sources mentioned in your essay.
In essence, to write a great essay requires that you take time to plan your research and the actual writing process. If you don't plan both of these stages, at least minimally, then you will be like a rabbit in car headlights - not knowing where to go and wondering if you should move, resulting in a mad rush at the end and running out of the path of the car (or in your case, rushing and submitting the essay just in time). I believe planning to be a huge stage in the process of academic learning; you need to understand what aspects or avenues you can go down, and often perusing other avenues that many other students will have not; thus, adding your own unique 'take' (views and opinions) will help you have a better understanding, as well as a better final grade, than your peers.
The structure of your essay needs to have a beginning, middle and an end, and your most concentrated efforts should be on your conclusions and your conclusion. Many students are confused by these; your conclusions are made throughout your paper, when you look at certain aspects or understanding on your paper's topic and this should happen continuously throughout your work. On the other hand, your conclusion is the end part of your paper that summarizes what you have said and highlights the whole of your document, but also identifies the important parts.
I go back to what an important lecturer said to me early in my academic life - your essay, or paper, should comprise of the following:
+ introduction - say what you are going to say
+ body - say what it is and offer your opinion, backed-up with other scholarly research
+ conclusion - say what you have said, thus summarise