Written by Alexandra Dillard | Photography by Madeline Jane Weddings
Beyond all the pomp and circumstance and decor, what happens at the altar is the most meaningful part of your wedding. You’ll have an officiant to guide the ceremony, but when it comes to exchanging vows, this is your time to really focus on what matters most. You’ll enter your own bubble as you look into your loved one’s eyes and swear your best and worst days to them. Guests, musicians, officiant and wedding attendants will fade into the background as you have these few minutes to soak in what this celebration is all about. So how do you even start writing such an important collection of words? Let’s get started.
GET A HEAD START
While you’re likely busy with apparel fittings, cake tastings and RSVP collections, don’t wait until the last minute to write your vows. To make sure you’re not rushing and end up with something you’re not satisfied with, get started writing early.
As you start brainstorming, set aside a notebook or create a document on your phone/computer to begin compiling tidbits you want to include in your vows. This can be as simple as a bulleted list or as complex as full sentences. By adding ideas and nuggets all along the way, when you finally sit down to perfect it all, you’ll have a good start.
Some of the most special and unique vows include storytelling elements. It’s special to personalize your vows with inside jokes, memories together and uniquely “you” references. In your notebook, jot down stories about your first meeting or “the moment you knew” as the memories pop into your head. Include favorite songs, TV series and any other special connection you two share. These specifics can be just vague lists, but they will help you start to see patterns you might want to incorporate. The most important part is that you don’t have to do all of this in one sitting. Writing one or two notes down every few days or weeks is all you need!
In this step of the process, it can be helpful to practice some free- writing. When you are in a good mood and have some time to spare, grab a pen and paper and just start writing. Freely write about your partner, your relationship, what marriage means to you, etc. These scribbled notes do not need to be perfect poetry, this is just your moment to write uninhibited. You’ll be surprised to find what lovely tidbits will come out of writing pressure-free. You don’t need to write perfectly, what’s important is that you get your thoughts out in front of you.
BE ON THE SAME PAGE
Likely, you and your partner have different personalities, which is why you’re joining together to bring out the best parts of each other! So it wouldn’t be a surprise that your approach to writing vows would be different. However, it can be a bit awkward when one partner reads a 10-minute, heartfelt speech, followed by the other sharing only a few (just as heartfelt!) words.
To keep your vows on the same page, discuss with your partner what they are planning on writing. You don’t need to reveal specifics, but it is good to have that conversation and see eye to eye. It can be helpful to set a word count range or time limit so that the speeches are similar in duration.
Just as important as length, make sure that you two match tones. One partner might fill their vows with jokes and lighthearted fun, while the other plans a tear-jerking and poetry-ridden declaration. Both of these are great vow directions, but finding a middle ground will keep the ceremony cohesive while still including the best parts of you into the vows.
If you’re feeling nervous about writing, use vow templates to help you get started. By looking at examples, your mind will automatically start putting things together. There are a lot of examples out there, from videos published on YouTube to written blog posts. Note what styles you don’t like and remember the parts that make your heart skip a beat. Feel free to mix and match your favorite elements from these examples to create something that fits you.
SECOND SET OF EYES
When you are feeling comfortable about the state of your vows, show them to someone you trust. You likely have been so engulfed in the vows and every specific word that it’ll be hard to take a step back and look at them as a whole.
Be open to honest feedback, it’s better to receive that now than when you’re reading the vows in front of everyone! While getting a second opinion is useful, keep in mind that your vows are ultimately yours. Some people might disagree with a phrase or two, but if you feel something is important to your relationship, keep it. You know your relationship best and you know what vows will be the most special.
Sharing your vows with a friend or family member is also a great way to practice reciting them. When you’re at the altar and nerves are high, you won’t want the words to feel foreign on your tongue. Play around with your delivery, pace and how you’ll express your emotions. Sometimes how you say something is just as important as the words themselves. As you practice, make notes to yourself like, “take a breath here” or “pause for laughter” so you don’t get tripped up.
THE WRITTEN WORD
Most couples don’t memorize their vows. Emotions run high during the ceremony and adding a memorized script to the mix can be intimidating. If you’re comfortable with doing so, go for it! But it is just as special to have your vows written down so you can ensure your thoughtful words are spoken as you intended.
Some couples enlist their stationer or calligrapher to transcribe their vows into a beautifully designed memento. This can be your script for the ceremony, but also serves as an heirloom you can cherish for years to come. We’ve seen some beautifully designed vow booklets, scrolls and notecards. If you decide to have children, these keepsakes can maybe even help them write their own vows someday!
No matter what direction you decide to go with your vows, the most important thing is to be true to yourself. You’re giving your authentic self to your partner and you want your words to come out naturally. But with the right preparation, you’ll be ready to speak from the heart and focus on what really matters: promising your commitment to the love of your life.