Rudyard Kipling (forgive me here for writing about the one thing I'm sure I know about) talked about writing in a way more suggestive of an assembly-line worker than a creative genius. He was famous for a strict regimen of sitting down to his desk for hours--even when nothing was coming out. His autobiography includes a whole chapter on what he called his "working tools." The writer's craft, to Kipling, was exactly that--a craft needing practice, and patience, and consistent effort to improve.
He was a journalist, so it's not really surprising to see him think about writing like that. For years, that was a fairly common sort of view. Literary genius wasn't so much a matter of an inspired person simply putting pen to paper and spouting gold from the depths of their soul. Rather, the genius lay in a writer's skill with words, their sense of balance and sound, of tone and structure.
I try to instill in my students something like this attitude towards writing. Most of them are under the impression that simply can't do it. They have nothing to say. They're often not even sure what they think. The hangup seems to be, if there isn't a fully-formed essay (or even a single paragraph!) floating around in their head in its most perfect form, then they couldn't possibly have anything to write.
How do we break this self-defeating cycle? As a writing teacher, I'd like to say it's simply a matter of telling them that there's a better way to go about writing, and that it doesn't matter if you're not quite sure what to say, what's important, and what will help you get thinking in the first place, is just trying. This is exactly why it's important to have some sort of schedule. Like any other skill, our writing gets dull and cobwebby if we don't use it from time to time. This may sound like well-worn advice at this point. Nearly every website, university, writing center, and even Ask.com and YahooAnswers will tell you, "set aside time to write and just go."
Apparently that's not enough. We need to do more to encourage people to think of writing not in terms of what comes out at the end--the product--but rather in terms of the process. Life's a journey, right? So is writing, and no piece of writing every needs to be done. It's a process of thinking, and challenging ourselves and building new knowledge. The more time we spend simply trying to get words onto the page, the easier the time around will be, and the better we'll learn to shape and cut and shift what does come out.
That sounds something like a teaching philosophy to me. Maybe I should write a book?