Yes, Virginia, it is possible to write when you can't actually write. I'm not talking about using some neat Wii game or iPod app, either. It's a more ethereal thing. And it doesn't cost a penny. It's called writing in your head. What a concept, eh?
For example, when you find yourself with a long road trip ahead and you're the driver there's not much choice but to discover the virtual writer inside yourself. I've had the opportunity (well, over the years many opportunities) to discover the joy of writing in your head - especially when there's a huge expanse of Highway 401 in front of you (the stretch between London and Windsor in southwestern Ontario is one of the flatest, most boring and deadly stretches to drive. They don't call it Carnage Highway for nothing). That four hour ride from Toronto to Windsor has been the impetus for generating quite a few ideas in this writer's brain. But, you say, that's just daydreaming, Nelsa. That's not real writing. How exactly can a writer write when they're not using their fingers to grip pencil or type keys?
I would suggest that without daydreaming there can be no actual writing. There is a certain sense of freedom in daydreaming when you have an empty road ahead of you. I've created many stories in my mind when stuck driving or doing something that is relatively mindless. I also grew up on a farm and spent many years picking cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. Besides getting a great tan, those hours spent on my mom and dad's farm were hours I spent weaving fantasy worlds and characters to keep me from going suicidal with boredom. Looking back on it, daydreaming those stories was my early apprenticeship in being able to eventually write the stories. In fact, I would argue that the time spent not physically writing is probably the most important part of the process. The freedom to go anywhere in your mind is not yet constrained by the difficulty in finding the perfect words to describe that journey.
The other thing I love about those times when I know I'll be staring at the long and winding road ahead, is if I'm stuck on a plot point or when I'm doing revisions to a book. I know I'll have some uninterrupted time to figure out the problem. I've heard writers say they get their "Aha!" moments in the most ridiculous places like the shower or doing the laundry - when their mind is free from the pressure that having that keyboard and screen in front of them or that pen and journal on their lap. I absolutely believe that's true. When I can play out the draft I've written in my head like a movie, I can see where I need more of something in a particular spot and then try and work out what that something is. Virtual writing makes me feel the closest to being inside the story - to help me feel out the story so that, hopefully I'll be able to remember those feelings and pictures in my head so that I might then be able to describe them in actual words written on an actual screen.
So, the next time you're stuck doing a mindless, boring task don't groan about it. Use it. To write your next story.