Writing Your Vows, Part 1

Don’t Panic

With the words you write, you are pledging to put your life into the hands of the one you love. So, sitting at your computer, cursor blinking, maybe your brain stops. You knew what you wanted to say a moment ago, and now, it’s gone.

In the words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t Panic!” That’s a natural response, and perfectly normal for most of us. Even experienced writers may face a block when it comes to writing what is in their hearts. That’s why I’ve written this short article.

Now, you don’t have to do all of the exercises and prompts in the section below. If you complete all that work – about five hours spread over seven to ten days – not only will you knock you pledges out of the park, you will have material to write in letters and cards to you beloved for months and years to come, just by doing a little work now.

I get that I’m asking you to give up two movies over the next couple of weeks. And when you do that, you will have the perfect pledge for your wedding ceremony. Plus, you won’t panic about what to write in her birthday card. You’ll know exactly what to tell him when your anniversary rolls around. You will be more than a little prepared to do your part in upholding the marriage partnership.

There is a spectrum of reasons to compel you to jump directly into writing your vows before you complete all the exercises. On one end, you are ready to create with just a nudge. At the other end, you really are overwhelmed, and this seems like too much. Wherever you are on that range, that’s perfectly fine.

What I most hope for is that your imagination catches fire from reading the opening section and doing a couple of drills. Your brain lights up like Christmas, and words flow from your hand like an Artesian spring. When you get that first draft, jump right into consulting with me! We’ll refine it for your big day.

Maybe you’re at the other end of the spectrum. Work, and life, consume all of your time. The preparations for the wedding kept you from getting the half-hour or so of quiet time you need to read and write your vows. Boy, do I understand that! Let me know, and we will work together to get your vows ready. We may borrow from poets, singers, authors, or cinema to find the words that fit your meaning.

Setting Goals

Before we start writing, let’s review your goals and my guidelines for Personal Pledges. Your vows are statements about now and a promise for the future. They are your “solemn promise to love, honor, and support” each other for the rest of your lives. Those are action words!

It’s tempting to write a love letter and call it your vows. Sometimes that is a perfect place to start the process. But the goal of a love letter is different than that of a pledge. The objective of a love letter is to spend a couple of pages recounting your love for your partner. While the missive sometimes contains a promise, honestly, isn’t it about describing your feelings? And, about describing your partner in glowing, effervescent terms?

See the difference? On the one hand, you are declaring your future performance to your partner in front of your tribe. On the other, you’re unfolding your innermost thoughts and feelings.

A Story About Expectations

I often tell couples about one of the first weddings I officiated. The pair had chosen to write their vows, and I invited the groom to go first. He pulled three rumpled, handwritten sheets from his pocket. He read five pages of smudged, cramped script to his best beloved. A few minutes later, it was the bride’s turn. She drew a folded, damp three-by-five from her bodice and read the few lines she’d penned. She felt guilty for having said so little. He felt awkward for having rambled on so much. I was a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t helped them reach an equitable solution before they were in front of their friends and family.

My Guidelines – My Promises

From that experience, I made up these guidelines:

  • Foremost, your personal vows are action statements.
  • And so, your vows should be no more than three to five paragraphs.
  • And, each paragraph should be from three to five sentences long.
  • The final version fits inside an 8.5 x 5.5 booklet that I print for the wedding.

Additionally,

  • I promise to help with content when you’re stuck.
  • Secondly, I promise to suggest edits for length consistent with your style.
  • Finally, I edit for spelling, grammar, and clarity while retaining your style.

A Vows Overview

“Three to five paragraphs. Wow! That seems short!” Well, remember, we’re thinking in terms of actions now. And the last paragraph is mainly about what you intend to do to make your marriage a working partnership. If you look at a traditional ceremony, that part is one paragraph each person affirms to the other.

That leaves t