Not many people know this, but the only portion of the ceremony that is absolutely necessary is the consent (the "I do's" or "I will's") and the signing of the registry. The rest of the ceremony, be it part of ritual (if you're religious) or otherwise, is actually not legally required. Surprised? :)
So what does this mean?
This means that if you are doing a civil ceremony, i.e. outside of church, synagogue, mosque, temple, etc., then you may have the opportunity to write your own vows. And if you are sentimental, quirky or poignant, you may very well want to take advantage of this. So here are some tips:
1. Be a little funny. We have all heard the "I take thee" vows at some point, so being a little bit out of the ordinary, and dare I say, a little bit more genuine, is gladly welcome. Talk about leaving your laundry on the floor, or vowing never to poke the bear when one is hangry. These are real vows too, and true to a marriage once all the pomp and circumstance is over.
2. Speak from the heart. This goes without saying, but your vows are your solemn promise to your beloved, something you may not say out loud again (although it's a nice ritual to dust them off during an anniversary or two). When writing your vows, think about all the things you are thankful for and feel blessed about. Amongst the hustle and bustle of wedding planning, take the chance to think about why you proposed/agreed to this union. Speak from there.
3. Wing it - or don't! Depending on if you are a natural public speaker, you might want to really speak from the heart, with no guidelines or papers. This isn't always recommended. Even the most gallant and confident speakers get choked up when seeing their beloved across from them. If you insist on not having anything to speak from, then at least have a backup written version so that if everything goes blank, you can reach for it.
4. Don't be afraid to let it all out. While vows shouldn't take longer than a couple minutes per person, they also shouldn't be rushed. Take your time to say everything you want to say to your love. Take a deep breath, let yourself stop to cry, and never be afraid to be emotional.
5. Practice, but just a couple times. It's not a bad idea to say your vows in front of the mirror at least once, but don't feel like you have to do it until you memorize it. You also don't want to make it seem like you are just reciting a reading. Look up occasionally to remind yourself that you are speaking to someone.
6. Bring extra copies. We are the first to admit, things get busy on a wedding day! Make sure you give a copy to your best man/maid of honour, or even to the minister/officiant so that in case it just doesn't end up in that pocket, you can call for backup.
Hope that helps!
Happy writing, and may you have a blessed, beautiful and intimate ceremony!