One of the hardest things for me as a writer has always been editing. I don’t just mean moving commas about, but big edits, like changing parts of the plotline itself, or the names of beloved characters. Those kinds of edits tear at my heart and soul.
Ultimately though, I have to ask if changing something in my book that hurts right now will help in the long run. Is what I need to change good for the story? What does it add to the tale, the characters, the setting? And why do I want to keep it so badly? I might love a scene that does nothing to move the story along, does not develop the characters, or give the reader a better idea of the world they are in. In that case, I should probably let it go.
This is one reason it’s so important to have people read your story (it helps if they aren’t a part of your family and actually know something about writing) and suggest edits to make. After working on the same books for eight years and trying to edit and better them myself, I have run out of ideas. I might be endlessly creative, but I am too close to the story, I don’t know what to change anymore to make it better. I need someone to come from the outside and read the story and give suggestions about changes.
Now, on the other end of the spectrum, you have to be careful about what you do remove from the story. You are the author of the story you are writing, you know it better than anyone else. So you have to ask yourself, “Is what someone wants me to change essential to the heart of the story? Do I need to keep this scene in order to convey my main point?” if the answer is yes, then don’t take it out. Rework the scene, edit sentences and commas all you want, but keep the heart of your story, and don’t let anyone tell you not to write it. Someone out there needs to hear the story you’re trying to tell, so don’t compromise the story’s heart and soul because someone who doesn’t understand is telling you to take it out.
That being said, if what someone is asking you to change doesn’t compromise the heart and point of the story, then you should probably seriously consider what they’re saying. Some people only want to criticize you, but there are also a lot who really want to help you. Listen and learn. If you feel like someone is attacking you with how they approach your story, or the constructive criticism they’re giving, then take a step back; go away from that comment or email for an hour or a day or a week and come back to it when you feel more objective. Then see if they really were attacking you, or if they just wanted to help.
A final note: Stories change a lot. Your tale will never be exactly the same from when you start writing it to when you finish editing it. And that’s okay. I was looking at the original draft for my first book last night (which I wrote 8 years ago when I was 13) and the timeline, writing style, story and characters, have changed massively from when I first started. That is good. I have made the story deeper and better. I have expanded and built upon what my younger self started. I have made a book worth reading.
Make changes to your story, and then be proud of yourself that you were brave enough to make them.