As a kid, I was a daydreamer as well as a reader. My two oldest siblings were voracious readers and loved fantasy. They passed this taste along to me. Our family made a trip to the library every week. By early adolescence, I read Lord of the Rings, all of the E. Nesbit books, C.S. Lewis, Bradbury, Heinlein, Dickens … I tell more about my later reading here.
I’ve never lacked for imagination. If I think, “I need an idea,” one will typically come to me, sometimes as I’m walking, or in the shower, or driving. I sometimes put myself into a scene from my writing before I fall asleep to incubate an idea. Words or thoughts will then often come clearly to me between dreaming and waking in response to the “incubation.” It can be a powerful tool.
Though each of us is different, I’d say keeping a rich variety of thought-material in one’s life is important for developing writing ideas. Walks in nature, reading, watching films from other countries, all stir the soup. Also self-expression: singing, art, dance, other movement. But to get ideas onto the page in a way that makes readers live your story requires getting in touch with what experiences feel like, living the emotions. This leads to being able to drop down into lived experience and draw it up into the written word. Natural dialogue comes from that place. Paying attention to our inner world—dreams, reflection, journaling—can help connect the conscious mind with the unconscious where I think imagination and creativity start. I work with my dreams and sometimes collage them; just seeing the images when perusing National Geographics can stir the imagination.
One can read voluminously about character development, plot arcs, style, but nothing replaces reading vibrant writing, being reflective, and living both our inner and outer life richly. That’s my theory, anyway.