When I got engaged way back in 2008, I went out and bought one of those big wedding magazines. You know the ones, with the three hundred pages and two hundred and fifty of them are ads? I also bought a hot pink three-ring binder, in which I was going to house my inspiration and contracts and any other relevant documents. I used… neither the magazine nor the binder. And instead, planned my wedding in an anxious fog of misguided ideas from blogs and inadequate advice from loved ones.
The problem, at the time, was that no resource existed that would help you plan your wedding. There were lots, and lots, and I mean LOTS of inspirational images. But nothing that would help you figure out how to talk to your divorced parents about their mismatched financial contributions. And certainly nothing about what to do when your mom hugely disappoints you two days before your wedding day.
And then, in 2011, Meg wrote her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration (which we’re going to call APW: The Book for… obvious reasons). And I’m pretty sure I called it a revelation. This book would have saved me so much time and money and stress! I proclaimed. And yet, in the years since, I’ve found it increasingly hard to describe why APW: The Book is so essential to wedding planning. It’s… an emotional guidebook to wedding planning? Something you should give your mom so she doesn’t drive you to an anxiety meltdown? It’s not a planner (Meg wrote one of those too!), but something else? We know it’s important and helpful, so I’ve mostly settled on the strategy of shaking my loved ones by the shoulders and saying, “YOU NEED THIS, DON’T QUESTION MY AUTHORITY.” Except, um, confession time: I actually haven’t read APW: The Book since I wrote that first review—and aside from shipping out a copy any time someone we love gets engaged, the team doesn’t really do a good job of talking about APW: The Book as much as we should. And surprise! It’s really hard to describe something you barely remember and never talk about.
So, when Meg asked me to read the updated version of APW: The Book at Alt Summit a few weeks back (she has a second edition coming out in December and I promised to give it an overview), I enthusiastically obliged. With three very close family members planning weddings right now, I figured I should probably have a grasp on the book I keep sending them. What I did not expect is that ten years after my own wedding, I would still be gesturing wildly to Meg over my piña colada that this book is very good! and then crying by page thirty.
And now that it’s fresh in my mind, here’s the clearest way I can think to describe APW: The Book and why it’s such a great resource for people actively planning weddings: it’s basically a self-help book for weddings. And given what an emotional shit show wedding planning can be, it’s frankly a tragedy that there aren’t more of them around.
I will back up for a moment and say, I am equal parts very into self-help books and very skeptical of them. The good ones are good, and the bad ones are very cringey. (I am not here for your poetry, Jonathan, just tell me why I feel like crap all the time, ok?) My personal taste runs pretty solidly in the big-sister-real-talk-with-a-healthy-dose-of-empathy category. I binged Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass and You Are a Badass At Making Money. I’ve listened to How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids. Twice. (It’s a pretty awful heteronormative title, but otherwise a great book.) And I just downloaded Rachel Hollis’s book so I can see what all the damn fuss is about.
So reading APW: The Book again, I was like… oh yeah, I recognize this format! The reason I love that particular category of self-help books is because they manage to take something that feels very specific to me (my problems are unique, y’all—they contain multitudes) and make it universal in a way that feels actionable. And then, you know, bonus point for humor. So, through the process of reading, I go from this:
And that’s how I felt reading APW: The Book. I’m obviously not actively planning a wedding. (Though I did. And quite poorly, I might add. Those who can’t do, teach, right?) But I have ridden shotgun in half a dozen weddings over the last few years and photographed nearly a hundred of them. And due to the aforementioned family members, I’m also fielding weekly phone calls about things like budgets and venues and whether or not it’s ok to elope and have a big party later. And literally, each of their questions is answered in the book.
And did I mention I cried reading it? (Chapter two, page thirty.)
So if you haven’t picked up APW: The Book yet, and are planning a wedding, or even if you’re like… I have The APW Planner, why do I need the other book? Here’s what you can get out of APW: The Book that you can’t get anywhere else:
Hand-holding. It’s not like there is a lack of information about wedding planning on the internet. I mean, APW alone has something like 5,000 published articles. 😲 But all that information is overwhelming and not organized in any sort of timeline. And on and on. Instead, APW: The Book is like your first college orientation, when the chipper campus leader takes you around all the hot spots, tells you where to find food, and assures you that it’s perfectly normal to miss your parents. There are chapters on everything from prioritizing your to-do list (or the anti-to-do list, as it’s called in the book) and dealing with emotionally and physically absent family members to hard conversations about tradition and cultural expectations.
Ordered Thinking. Remember those family members I mentioned above? Well, not six hours after I finished reading APW: The Book, I received a call from my cousin saying she had found a wedding venue they love and settled on a (rough) date. That’s amazing! I told her. But they’d only been engaged a few weeks. So I followed up with, Do you know what your budget is yet? Have you asked your parents if they are contributing? Do they have any expectations around the guest list? And when I was met with silence, I also asked, Do you know much this venue costs? 😬 She did not.
Because here’s a thing I see happen a lot: you start wedding planning, and you begin with the things that seem important to you. Maybe that’s your outfit. Maybe it’s getting married with that one specific view from your city that you love. Maybe it’s your centerpieces (whoops). And you fall in love with one particular detail that you can’t imagine your life without. And then, as you get deeper into wedding planning, you realize that the one particular detail you can’t live without doesn’t jive with the reality of the wedding you can afford to plan. (The view is great, but surprise! It only holds thirty people and you’ve got a big Catholic family to please.) And now you’re heartbroken and don’t know what to do. This. 👏 Can. 👏 Be. 👏 Avoided. APW: The Book sets you up with a formula for planning your wedding so that you start with the non-negotiables (including the emotional ones!), and then move onto the accoutrements.
A lot of emotional support. Weddings are hard. They can be emotionally draining. But most popular wedding media is like, Yas gurl, you got that rock! Time to party! Say yes to the dress! When’s the bachelorette? Which can also make it really isolating. What struck me the most as I read APW: The Book for the first time in years is—how much it sounds like I’m talking to my recently engaged friends. There’s lots and lots of assurance that what you’re experiencing is normal, that your feelings are valid, and that there is a way through to the other side.
In hindsight, it’s actually a wonder to me that there aren’t more self-help books for weddings. There’s plenty of information about how to coordinate your wedding logistically. But the emotional struggle of planning a giant event (usually the first one you’ve ever tackled) combined with finances, family expectations, and cultural bullshit makes for a very complicated year (give or take) of your life. We’d probably all be better off if we started wedding planning with an emotional guidebook with the sole purpose of preventing misinformation and meltdowns.
I know, you’re probably thinking, sure, Maddie, but you get paid to say this book is good. Except I don’t. (The book writing gig is all Meg, and she rightfully pockets the money on books she writes by herself.) But Meg asked me to read over the edits she made to the second edition, and when I was done, I was like, WE HAVE TO TELL EVERYONE THIS BOOK IS VERY GOOD. And because impostor syndrome is real, Meg was like, Oh great, I wasn’t sure it was. 🙄 And then I rolled my eyes so far into the back of my head that I can’t find them.
All of which is to say: if you’re in the throes of wedding planning, may I suggest backing up a step and reading A Practical Wedding, the book, cover to cover? And then sending all of your recently engaged friends a copy too? Because it really is very helpful. And you might even cry a little bit reading it, remembering why you said yes to this crazy adventure in the first place.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have two more copies to add to my Amazon cart.