This is NSFW because I have included some recent images I made.
There are no secrets here. Photography is quite simple as is lighting. If anyone makes you think it's tough, just know it isn't. When you first got behind a wheel and started driving, there were many controls that as a passenger you never thought about because they didn't concern you. Behind the wheel though, you've now spotted the controls for lights, blinkers, heat, A/C, emergency flashers, e-brakes, regular brakes, windshield wipers, etc. It seemed perhaps a little overwhelming, but now as a seasoned driver you can get into just about any car and know basically how everything should work. As a passenger the extent of your knowledge for the car was in turning the knob on the radio.
Photography and lighting is much the same. It's perhaps slightly overwhelming at first but then second nature after a little bit.
Here is, in my opinion, what it takes to go from novice to good ("great" might include longevity, exposure and marketing, but you will hit a few "great" photos along the way, some by design, some by luck).
1) Knowing how your camera works and what effect various changes will have when applied. This includes knowing all of the basics such as what an aperture is, shutter speed, how ISO affects output, and so forth. Think of it like this. A camera is a somewhat complex tool. These days you can put it on full auto and let the tool think for itself as you aim it at various objects and people to capture a photo. The more you know about changing those settings, and knowing what they will do ahead of time, gives you more freedom and power to create some art.
2) On the subject of lighting you add one more element (outside of using ambient light or sunlight). Now that you have a firm grasp of such things as ISO, aperture, shutter speed, using an off-camera light is a safe next step in being able to harness your creative potential. By understanding the basics of light and how that works in illuminating your subject you have another tool in the arsenal for creating your vision. There are a million ways (almost) on modifying your light to change it's effect. Everything from colored gels, to the tight circle of a snoot, to a strip of light used to create nice shadows made by a strip bank to soft even light of a large softbox or octobox. And on and on. A shortcut here to understanding is to hook up with a friend that has some lights and to practice using whatever modifiers they have so that you can see what effects they each have in use (books, blogs etc only get you so far). When I got into using off-camera lighting, I simply purchased many different modifiers then experimented. Another good way to do this is pay for a lighting workshop that includes hands-on experience because that's what you need.
3) A basic knowledge of post processing. Today we have been granted our own virtual darkroom right in the comfort of our homes on a computer screen. Personally, I use Photoshop and Lightroom. Am I a wizard at these things? Not really. It's probably MY biggest weak point. Part of it is my upbringing in film and part is my laziness to sit down and concentrate on learning it. I know what I know and I get by. For everything else, outsourcing can work but I have only done that when it concerns the exchange of money and when it was beyond my knowledge. So, buy a good photo editing program. Lightroom and Photoshop are offered by Adobe for about $10 a month on subscription. A cheap price to pay for such powerful tools that can help complete your vision. The more you know here, the more you can be cool like some of the other guys.
4) Creativity and imagination. If you know 1, 2 and 3 above, then really the only thing left is having good artistic vision, knowing what you want to create and then doing it. Sometimes though the idea is only loose in your head, but you start shooting and it develops. Anyway, being an artist probably has something to do with having an imagination so, there ya go. The more the better.
5) Bring it to the next level and collaborate with other artists. If you shoot people, then discover the magic of what a good make-up artist can do. Or wardrobe. If you don't shoot people, then talk to other photographer's that specialize in your area of interest. In other words, other people have much to offer in the cultivation and nurturing of your art, style and general knowledge.
6) Last piece of advice, as you begin to receive some sort of acknowledgement from your peers and/or get noticed, you may run into assholes that pick apart your artwork and tell you how you should change things - to their liking. Just ignore this. Art is subjective (obvious when you've viewed "modern art"). As it is subjective, you aren't here to please anyone unless that of course is your goal. Then again, you can't please all the people all the time so don't even bother trying. Just be yourself. Be your own style but don't be afraid to grow. No one will remember the guy who's thing is to imitate other artists. In short, shine and don't let the detractors and trolls snuff out your light.