by Michael Kabel
Saying your wedding vows can be tough. Writing your own doesn't have to be tougher.
Maybe more than any other part of the wedding ceremony, the wedding vows are foreboding, for men and women both. It's not just that they're the words that officially make you married. (Because face it: you could strip everything else away and the wedding would still be real if you just said your vows.) It's that you have to say them in front of the guests you've invited to watch you get married.
Just thinking about it gives some people stage fright. It doesn't have to.
Freedom of Speech
Writing your own vows is a chance to set yourself free of all that anxiety. If you've ever spoken in public, you might have noticed that simply speaking from your mind, as if having a conversation, is a lot more comfortable than reciting, robot-like, a prepared speech. Your wedding vows should be like that, too. You'll feel more relaxed and sound more natural if you keep the vows simple and informal.
Keep It Sketchy At First
As you prepare your vows, first think of what you want to say and jot down the broad strokes. Do you want to talk about how you felt when you first met? When you proposed (or were proposed to?) Think about the future. What do you see for the two of you? The wedding vows will sound best when they're honest. Wanting to sound poetic is a lovely gesture, but in the long run will probably tie you up in elaborate words and phrases that won't sound sincere. They'll also be hard to dramatically recite.
Keep it simple. Write down as many ideas as you feel comfortable with, then say them back to yourself. If they feel easy to say aloud, keep them. If they feel forced or stiff now, you're probably not going to like saying them at the ceremony.
Take A Second Look
Once you've got your basics down, put the ideas away. Seriously. Let them sit in a desk drawer or out of sight for a few days. (A week if you've got the time.)
Now, go back and take a fresh, dispassionate look at what you've got. Which ones still appeal to you, and which seem forced or overly poetic? It's a sad truth that the prettiest turns of phrase are sometimes the first that need to be cut. (F. Scott Fitzgerald referred to this necessary evil as "murdering your darlings.") If something seems precious or flowery, it's probably not going to sound sincere up on the altar.
Putting It All Together
Take your best ideas and sort them into a shape you like. (Some writers assemble stories on index cards, moving events and scenes into different arrangements.) You can try many different sequences, arranging and rearranging until you find what feels most comfortable as you say it aloud. Once you find a pattern you like, copy the entire speech and get ready to rehearse.
If you’re wondering how long to practice saying the lines, the only answer is "as long as it takes." You can practice with a mirror, or with friends, but go over the speech again and again until you can say it by heart. Not just recite it - that's the robot talk you want to avoid. Practice until it's something you're excited about saying. That enthusiasm will shine through, not just for the guests but for the special person to whom you're speaking.