I bought a Canon G3 with some saved up money, mainly for snapshots of friends and family. I started trying a few different things like macro and landscapes and really enjoyed the results.
Christmas 2004 I got the Digital Rebel. It was a whole new world. I started reading everything I could get my hands on. John Shaw's books were a real help starting out.
About the same time I bought a copy of Photoshop (imagine that, actually paying for it instead of pirating it
) and started messing around with it.
I ran into Charles Umberger on several forums and attended two of his workshops in Charlotte. He demystified lighting for me, and made me see it as something not to fear.
I shot a friend's wedding for free because they didn't have any money, and it turned out great. I started to see that I might be able to do this for a living.
I don't do many weddings, but I've started a business doing all the post-production work for wedding photographers.
So, long story short, a lot of trial and error spattered with the support of friends, family, and online communities. And, a lot more trial and error to come