Coming from a writing background (I have an MFA in Fiction Writing), I find it is interesting to note the overlap and comparison of thinking about composition of images and composition of prose. The common quote "a picture is worth a thousand words" comes to mind. Interestingly it is said one of the 'rules' of photography is that images should tell a story. If it is true, who should be more likely to have an interest in photography than someone who has studied fiction writing...I find my experiences with writing help me see my progress through photography more clearly.
Writing At College
Taking writing courses was a confounding joy. I might be handed an assignment to write a story, and might be inspired immediately to write a poem. With the suggestion that I write a poem, I might be at no short hand to write prose. Other students I know would claim to get the much-romanced 'writer's block', often meaning they couldn't come up with anything interesting to fulfill an assignment. While my reaction to assignments may just have been some perverse part of my nature, the imposed task would fill with obligation, rigidity and expectation...and I could find respite in doing almost anything but the task at hand. I enjoyed discovery and creativity; it was simply more fun to explore writing to whatever end than to perform a task.
The upshot of structured courses was that while I was compelled to complete the necessary work to conform to the expectations, I wrote probably twice as much unstructured work in addition to the formal assignments. To stave off verbal constipation, I made a habit of keeping a scratch book (and still do) where I was free to experiment and explore words. In the abstract paths, scraps, and unfinished pieces may not be my best work and material, and much I've never shared or published, but some inevitably filtered back into other finished work, and it is still where I do my most intense learning.
And After College...
Later, continuing down a lawless path, I taught college English for several years, and tested ideas from my own learning, using my students like guinea pigs. I tried to abandon rules entirely as part of the curriculum -- rules, I reasoned, were something no one really cared for, and college students should have had their fill by the time they met me -- so I had my students exploring writing itself rather than tethering them to the rule book. They wrote a lot, improved tremendously by following their interests, and seemed to allow themselves to enjoy the experience of writing which, in turn, helped them learn from it, often coming in a back-handed way to the rules -- whether they recognized them or not.
Choosing Your Rules
The best of rules, when you know them, become simple, helpful guidelines built on common sense: suggestions as to what will achieve success with relative consistency. While anyone can resist rules, the essence of rules can't totally be ignored. Rules of writing attach meaning to words and without that reference writing would never convey an intended meaning; likewise, you can't take a picture without light in the absolute dark. Rules may not fit your perspective as you hear them, but they may have other meanings, and more fitting, creative, and personally meaningful interpretations. For example, the rule of thirds really says to me: "don't be boring", which can lead to a lot more than 4 suggested options.
There are all sorts of writings, just like there are all sorts of photos. Some photos might tell a story, and might seem more like a poem, a story, or even a novel -- and some may only be meant to be snippets, scraps, experiments, and vehicles for learning. If you following the rule that each shot needs to be a story as an imperative, you may hold yourself back from capturing some less structured frames, experimenting and exploring possibilities, and learning from and enjoying your time taking pictures. In other words, you will do well to follow the rule of trying to tell stories with your images -- so long as it doesn't oblige you to try and squeeze impossible imagery from an inappropriate scene when you might, instead, happily snap the shutter to learn some nuance about light, shadow, shutter speed, or color that may later help you 'tell a story' in better conditions.
Pear Stems. Shot when I found my camera in hand and some interesting light after dinner.
Practicing Lawless Photography
At times, when you are frozen, looking for the ultimate shot in a dramatic scene that is being elusive, it may help to put the rules out of your head a moment and just look through the viewfinder. Snap off some frames without expectations, move in and away, tilt the camera, shoot portrait and landscape, change your lens...Think of as many rules as you can while doing it, and break every one -- for a reason if you can think of one, or just because. After you shoot a series, view the results to see if anything you shot suggests a direction, and then use that suggestion and refine the result. You can always use rules first if you feel naked -- or you may find you follow them more naturally as you shoot view and refine.