I read a book that changed the way I look at photography. It's called No More Second-Hand Art, and though it was written for visual artists there's a lot we photographers can learn as well.
First, let me explain what the title means. It's not a condemnation of finding a great piece of art at a garage sale. It's a play on the phrase second-hand religion (SHR). SHR means to truly know God, you must create a direct connection yourself rather than depending on others to tell you what God is or isn't. That direct connection can be different for different people. Maybe it's attending church, or maybe it's meditation. Maybe it's doing good works or just taking a walk through the woods and appreciating the beauty of the world around us. But whatever it is, it's real and it's yours alone.
The same principle applies to art. If you set out to make a pretty picture, you may succeed, but the piece will be empty of meaning. It will be a shallow mimicry of what society has told you art is. But if you set out to create an expression of a feeling or idea, you'll create something real and true that will connect with an audience. You'll create art. And best of all, the care you put into it means it will probably be just as pretty as the mimicry.
When I'm out shooting I fall into that trap of trying to create a beautiful photograph rather than using my camera as a tool to capture an image or idea. It's hard to change years of habit overnight, but I'm trying, and my photography is improving (slowly, but surely).