Writing your vows can be tricky, so we’ve collated some of the best tips from industry experts on how to perfect the art of vow writing.
When it comes to wedding prep — between the suit fittings and the cake tastings — writing your vows can get a little lost. Which is funny, because those words and their meaning is really the essence of the day. But who can blame you for putting it off? Public speaking, a writing assignment, and your most vulnerable feelings revealed? That’s the waking-up-at-4 am trifecta. Deep breath. You will nail this. And you can even love the process.
Nobody hears more marriage vows than a celebrant. And if you choose a celebrant who understands you, they can be fantastically helpful in the writing of them too. Which is why we’ve gathered three of Australasia’s most vibrant celebrants to share their vow-writing wisdom.
Lauren “Loz” is an extroverted Aussie who, together with fiance Rhys, forms Hungry Hearts Co. He takes cool documentary-style photos, she’s the clever wordsmith and celebrant. They’ll get married, she says, as soon as they can find a weekend they’re not travelling around NSW working their magic at other people’s weddings.
Bubbly Charlotte was a young cater-waiter on her OE from England when she was struck by the untraditional joy of New Zealand- style nuptials. Then she met Brad. They got engaged and, when they struggled to find a celebrant on their wavelength, it struck Charlotte that she could do that job herself and in one of the world’s most beautiful places — Queenstown. Your Big Day was born.
One of Auckland’s most beloved yoga and meditation teachers (with a handy background in film and TV), Yogamani brings elegance, clarity and a lighthearted spirituality to her celebrancy. She and her husband Mike, both surfers, tied the knot on the sunny deck of a family bach at one of their favourite beaches.
These three have each guided legions of lovers from the blank page to the altar. And here are some things they’ve learned about vows.
CHOOSE YOUR CELEBRANT WISELY
A good celebrant can help you draw out what you want to say and pull it together to create a ceremony that suits your vibe as a couple. Most celebrants have comprehensive websites which will tell you a lot about their values and approach.
YOU CAN’T WING THIS ONE
We understand the urge when speaking from the heart, to be spontaneous. But your vows do require some prep. “A lot of people say to me, ‘Can I just wing my vows?’” says Lauren. “No! There’s no way you are going to come up with any good content when you’re standing up there sweating and trying to pull your thoughts together.”
Remember that school essay you put off to the last minute, and how, after a sleepless night, you turned it in with no idea if it even made sense? Enough said… But Charlotte Winkel knows how easy it is to put off vow writing. “Wedding lead times have gotten shorter since Covid,” she says. “We’re all busy. But don’t start the week before the wedding. The pressure mounts and it becomes more of a chore.”
Don’t fret if you don’t see beautiful, witty, nuanced words flow from your pen immediately. “Give yourself time to make a start and then go away and think about it,” says Charlotte. “It might not be the first, second or third time that your ideas start to flow.”
TRY A TEMPLATE
Even if you don’t ultimately stick to it, a simple vow-writing template can break the creative ice. Both Lauren and Charlotte provide online templates. Or, if you’re a couple who wants to keep it light, you could use Lauren’s foolproof no-fuss formula: “Have an opening sentence, three funny promises followed by one nice promise, then a closing sentence.” Boom.
BEWARE THE GOOGLE HOLE
The internet is full of suggested vows which, sadly, all the other couples are reading too. “We go to weddings three to five times a week, and sometimes you’re like, wait a minute I just heard Kenny say that to Jenny!” says Lauren. And as with every topic, Google can scramble your brain with way too many viewpoints. Everything you need to say is already inside you.
GO FOR THE FLOW
While Lauren can provide her clients with suggestions for vows, she still advises sitting down with pen and paper (or laptop) and having a scribble, rather than cutting and pasting your vows together from various sources. “I think when you write your vows yourself, the flow is more natural,” she says. “Less choppy.”
HEART, MEET SLEEVE
Humour is a great way to relieve tension but don’t be afraid to embrace the hugeness of what you’re doing. “Vows must be totally in alignment with a couple’s authentic truth,” says Yogamani. “If they come from the heart simply they will be perfect. There is nothing more beautiful than honest vulnerability.”
ASK THE BIG QUESTIONS
What drew you to your partner? What inspires and amazes you about them? Why is this the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with? How do you feel when you think of your future together? Get it on the page! (You can edit later.)
HOW LONG ARE WE TALKING?
Vows can be as long or as short as you like but the ballpark length to aim for is one to two minutes each. Two minutes equals 280-300 words. Some couples choose to repeat their vows after their celebrant. Others memorise them or read them from cue cards. Some read them from their phones and… who are we to judge?
READ THEM ALOUD
Your vows are meant to be heard so practising reading them out loud will help to reveal any clumsy turns of phrases or stumbling blocks. That said, don’t fret about tripping over a word or two when it comes to the big day. This is your own personal declaration of love, not a Ted Talk.
PUT IN PARAGRAPHS
Consider how your vows are written. One big block of text will encourage a rapid breathless delivery. Breaking sentences up and dividing your thoughts into paragraphs reminds you to breathe, says Lauren. Yogamani agrees: “Sound is key, speed of delivery matters.”
MAKE SURE YOU MATCH
You might choose to write your vows with your partner. Or you can choose to keep them secret, which makes for some lovely moments on the day. But if you’re planning to go the secret route, it pays to check in and make sure you’re hitting a similar length and tone. “Get on the same page before you start,” advises Lauren. Then, once they’re written, run them past a third party such as your celebrant, who can guide you both to ensure your vows belong at the same altar.
DON’T FORCE IT
Just about anything goes in wedding vows now. But if cheekiness isn’t really your vibe there’s no need to morph into a standup comedian to amuse your guests. “Your vows aren’t an opportunity to be someone you’re not,” says Charlotte. “If there’s going to be some humour, it will come naturally.”
Say you want to say that your partner is loving or kind or always makes you laugh, dig a little deeper and provide an example of that. “Being specific can add a bit of depth,” says Charlotte. “Okay, they were supportive, but when were they supportive? Putting it in context makes it more personal to them, and less like something they’ve seen on the internet.”
KEEP IT LEGAL
This part is pretty simple. To legalise your marriage, your vows must include a sentence along the lines of: I (full name) take you (partner’s full name) to be my legal (wife/husband/partner). Your celebrant can help you work that seamlessly into your vows. For fans of tradition, the vows can involve an “I do” or two, but it’s not essential. “Couples can say definitely, for sure or hell yeah,” says Charlotte. “Basically as long as they don’t say no, I’ll take it.”
HERE’S A DIFFERENT IDEA
Lauren calls it the switcheroo and it’s when each partner writes the other’s vows and they don’t see them at all until they read them on the big day. Granted, this approach won’t appeal to everyone but Lauren has found it works really well for people who have a massive fear of stage fright. “It takes away all the stress of reading out your own words,” she explains. “And it sort of connects the couple to their guests who haven’t heard them before either.”
THINK OF THE GRANDCHILDREN
Consider having your vows written in a keepsake book, on cards for a memory box or even framed on your wall. There are plenty of options, although Charlotte is a fan of the keepsake books by Smitten with Love. “You’ve put all this time and energy and thought into your vows, it’s nice to have them forever. I would love to have seen my parents’ vows.”