I knew before Scott popped the questions that we would write our own vows. It's just a part of who we are. We have a lot of character, to put it nicely. And that character was not going to be summarized and expressed nice and succinctly using vows torn from the pages of some old manuscript, that thousands of others had recited before. Right after we booked our officiant, who would be writing (from scratch! Character!) the ceremony, we started thinking about vows. Well, I started thinking about vows. Scott just sort of waited until I had all my stuff together, and then he started thinking about them too. Here is a smattering of info that helped me, that I hope will also help you.
For your sanity, start early. Think about your vows, even if thinking about them causes your stomach to sort of wriggle in a knot and you start to sweat. That's good! Maybe that means these things won't happen on your wedding day! Seriously though, you don't want to be scrambling to write them the night before... or the morning of. You'll have other things to worry about. In our case, the officiant requested that we send him our vows at least one week prior to the wedding date. He would review them and get back to us if any changes were necessary (see the next point for more on this). It's good to give yourself a deadline like this. I would suggest a week prior to the event. That gives you plenty of time to practice, practice practice, and edit and re-edit if necessary.
Come up with a format/Decide on a mood.
One of the first things you need to think about is whether or not you and your partner will be seeing each other's vows prior to when you're reading them. You might choose to write your vows together (my brother and his wife did this), or share with one another what you have written. Either way is perfectly wonderful! Scott and I wrote our vows separately, and they were secret until we read them- we do love surprises. However, that's not to say that we didn't talk quite a bit, and at length, about how we were writing them. If you decide to write your vows separately, there are a few things to consider. Do you want the formats to match? How about the length of the vows? You might not want to be up there speaking for 5 minutes if your partner is going to speak for less than 1. Scott and I decided on a basic format that we would both follow. This sort of made our vows "match" and also gave us (Scott) a little bit of structure to follow. Our format was this: Two short intro type paragraphs, followed by vows. The vows began with "I promise." We wrote some silly (but sweet) vows at the beginning before diving into the serious, heartfelt sentimental ones. Our vows both ended with a short piece adapted from some celtic vows that resonated deeply with both of us.
Brainstorm until your brain falls out
Think about all the reasons you love this person, and all the things that make them special to you. What promises do you want to make? What can you work on to keep your relationship healthy and growing? Write, write write. Write about the things you like to do together, your favorite memories. Jot down inside jokes, favorite experiences, future plans. Look back in old diaries, or Facebook. Have fun remembering the things that you've forgotten (it definitely happened to me). Use these thoughts, memories, tidbits to write your vows. Or....
Look for inspiration (online)
There's a reason why I put this AFTER brainstorming. The Internet is a wonderful resource. There are a million places to find vows. Samples of vows, how-to-write vows, traditional vows, vows from other cultures... It's a wonderful resource! However. It is extremely, EXTREMELY easy to get lost in all of this "inspiration" and find yourself copying down lines from other people's vows word for word. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing- but remember, your vows are about you and your partner. Not about MrsSmith2012 and her husband (Mr. Smith). And while Mrs. Smith might have written some excellent vows and you want to jot those down, just be careful that you don't lose your personal touch. After all, that's probably the reason why you chose to write your own vows in the first place- because you want them to be personal. I fell into this pit several times. I wrote down so many bits and pieces of vows I found online- and I took them apart and rewrote them and rearranged them until they felt like they were mine, because I was terrified that I would get up there and be reading someone else's vows.
This might sound silly. But practice reading your vows after you've finished them. Hopefully you finished them and still have a week (or more! You go, you overachieve, you!) before your event. Print them out and stand and read them. How does it feel? Do you feel like you're trying to speak too quickly to get through them? Slow yourself down. Need to make some changes? Do it, you gave yourself plenty of time. Are you comfortable with them? Great. Now read them to someone else. I read them to Abby first before I let any human ears hear them. Then I read them to my bridesmaids. You might feel that you can skip this practice part, but please don't. Maybe you have a funky typo that you missed- you don't want to be reading that on the wedding day! The more you practice, the more familiar your vows will be, and the easier it will be to read them on the day.
When it comes time to say them, don't mumble!
At the very least, your partner needs to be able to hear you! And yes, we all know that the wedding is about the couple, and particularly the vows are between the two of you, but your guests DID get all dressed up and travel near and far to witness the two of you commit yourselves to one another. We used a portable mic at our ceremony. The officiant was also wearing a mic for the ceremony, and we asked him to hold out a mic for us while we read our vows. Some couples might not feel comfortable doing this, but by golly we were proud of our vows and our love and we wanted everyone to know it. If you don't have access to this kind of set up, that's perfectly fine. Just speak up, and don't mumble. Don't yell in your partner's face either, but don't mumble! (This is another reason why practicing is important!)
Also: Don't be afraid to improvise!
Here's a tip from your Rainy Day Bride. It's okay to improvise during your vows! (It's also okay to laugh through the ceremony). If something has come up, if disaster has struck- it's okay to mention it in a lighthearted, fun way. We stood in a rain shower getting soaked for 20 minutes during our ceremony. In my vows, I wrote something about going on adventures big and small, with two examples. Instead of reading the examples I had prepared a week prior (something about road trips, I believe), I stated (in sort of a petulant child voice) "like getting married IN THE RAIN." Everyone giggled, as it was the first actual acknowledgement of the fact that yea, Alissa and Scott are up there getting rained on and we are all going to pretend like that's something that's not happening. So it's cool! You don't have to read exactly from the script. If you're suddenly struck with inspiration looking at your spouse-to-be-in-literal-minutes, preach it!
I've seen lots of sweet ways to preserve your vows. Pinterest has tons of ideas. You can frame the actual vows that you used. You can create some wall art. Or you can have them embroidered! There are bunches of ideas out there, and why not immortalize those words that you both poured your hearts into?
Wedding photographs by Melissa Barrick.