Thursday, October 6, 2011

Oh! The Pressure: Tips on Writing Your Own Wedding Vows

Many happy couples decide to personalize their ceremony by writing their own vows; others find the entire notion completely terrifying! To be honest, I'm a writer and have written them for other people, but the thought of writing vows for my wedding makes me shudder. Original vows allow you to make this lifetime commitment in your own words and publicly express what is special about your love. The writing process can also remind you of why you've chosen one another - in case in the midst of all the planning you've forgotten! On the other hand, what about nerves; and how do you commit your life to a person in a meaningful and coherent way in two minutes or less?   

You need a plan 

Step 1: Make a few major decisions together: Will we each write our own set, or pen one together so that we both make the same vows? Will we mix traditional with original material? What style do we prefer - comical, Spiritual, poetic? And how long will it be (ideally 1-3 minutes)?

Step 2: Do the work. You're going to need to brainstorm for material. Ask yourself a series of questions and write down your answers. What did you think when you first met? When did you know you were in love? When, how, and why did you know you wanted to be married to them? How do they show their love for you? How do you show love to them? What have you learned from the other person, how do they make you better or inspire you? What do most love about being with your partner? What does love and marriage mean to you? What elements of your relationship do you hope will never change and which ones will marriage develop? What do see in your collective future? Have you already made commitments to one another in your own way that you'd want to repeat? What do you hope they say to you in their vows? 

Step 3: Look for outside inspiration. Songs, movies, poetry, Scripture, and love stories are great places to find either exact phrases or general sentiments you can echo in your vows. 

Step 4: Edit. Highlight your best stuff (the most emotional/favorite qualities/best stories) in one color. Then highlight the things that are the most "vow-like" in another. Rework the first into your declaration of love, and the rest into the "I promise" part. Trash the rest. Read the remaining portion aloud for length. If it's too long, repeat the process. What remains will be "your material," play with it and decide which order and what wording sounds the best. Try to phrase for maximum impact.
Step 5: Run it by someone. Practice reading your vows out loud to make sure the wording doesn't cause you to stumble. Another person can also help fine tune what you've written and provide feedback. They can also wave a read flag if your deep romantic feelings lean toward inappropriate for public consumption!

Things to Remember

- Remember that if it's not going well for you or your fiance, traditional vows are beautiful, enduring, and say what needs to be said. You can scrap originality if it's not working!!! Keep this "out" in the back of your minds, and if it does come to this, make the decision together.
- It is called "vows" for a reason. You are making a commitment to your partner and publicly declaring your love, therefore those two things need to be the focus instead of recounting the story of how you met. They were there, they already know!
- Talk about and consider your future spouse more than yourself. The "I" should stay mostly confined to your promises to them. Consider what commitments would matter most to your partner and be sure to include them. 
- Your vows should contain a sense of the sacred and have an enduring quality. They need to come from your deepest feelings today and also state your willingness to uphold those feelings into the future.
- Make sure that the Maid of Honor and Best Man have a copy if you choose to memorize your vows. If nerves get in the way, you'll need a Plan B!
- Speak from the heart and be authentic. At the end of the day, these vows are for the two of you. If you can give an honest expression of your love, you will have done just fine.

Literary Hints

- Use positive language: "I will honor..." instead of "I will not dishonor.."
- Sound like you. Don't pressure yourself to become a poet if you're not. Write in the voice your partner knows best - yours.
- Use decisive/strong language. "I commit, vow, honor, cherish, support..." Make sure each sentence is strong - there should be no wishy-washy sentiments or filler. 
- Match the tone in both sets of vows. You don't want to go comical if the other goes Spiritual. Ensure the overall "feel" is the same for both.

by Bethany Ellis


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