(Someone posted this to a loop I belong to, and I just had to respond.)
> I have listened to too many other
writers and changed the beginning and ending so many times the story
was not the story I started out with.
I think we have all done this. I know I have, and I remember fussing at critique partners in the early days when they couldn't tell me what kind of story they wanted to tell ("one that will sell" is NOT the right answer) and kept changing it according to whatever the last person to crit the ms might have said. In fact, I have one (now published) crit partner I STILL have to fuss at for that.
You need--we all need to hold that vision in our heads, that heart-deep need to tell THIS story, not that one or the other. We need to figure out the tone and the feel we want the story to have, the kind of person we want our characters to be, and then hold on to it. Characters can have all sorts of jobs and still hold true to who they are. I changed a character from a patrol cop to a night-club owner, but he still had the same personality (I did add a stint in the Marines when he left the police force). That was the second book I sold. (Her Convenient Millionaire, Silhouette Desire, May 2003)
Figure out the things that are important to you, the things that make the story the story, and hold on TIGHT to those. That's what you need to protect. The other stuff can change, but protect those essentials, the things about the story that you love.
I don't care what your critique partner says. The only person who really matters is you. Yes, the editor matters, but you're the only one who can decide whether you can stomach the changes, or how to make those changes, and it's usually a long way to go before you get the editor's input. But if you change the story so much that you don't love it any more, how can you write it?
Now, if your cp doesn't get what you're trying to say, or if the hero you love seems like a brute to her, yes, listen. Add motivation (that usually helps in the brute thing) or explain a bit more. But hang on to the important stuff.
Sometimes, it's just easier to start over and write a new book. If you learned from that story, even if it's just one single thing, then the story was worth writing, even if it slides under your bed and is never heard from again. (And I have several of those...) The main thing is: Keep writing, and Protect the Work.