I'm late to the conversation, but I'll throw in my rusty ten cents worth. This is my personal journey in the hobby. I think all builders (young and starting out or old and getting back into the hobby), learn and get better in different ways.
Here's what happened to me. I built models (military, planes, and cars) until I was about 17 or so. Then as it happened to all of us, life got a hold of me: school, girlfriends, more school, wife, children, mortgage, work, work, work, work, work, work and MORE WORK! In my late 30s, I found myself with a garage full of canaries (over 300 to be exact). I was breeding and showing but my girls were quickly developing bird dander allergies, so I gave up my birds, then looked around for another hobby. I've always believed in doing stuff with my hands. I've always drawn, painted, built things, so naturally I went to Wal-Mart one day and bought a kit. I will never forget it. It was the AMT 50 Chevy Street Machine. Brought it home. This thing brought glue and paint in it. Pretty soon after I opened the kit, I realized I would need some other tools. So I went out and bought a few things. I put the kit together quickly, ruined the paint job. Went back to the store, bought another, built that and ruined the paint job again. So on and so forth. I ruined lots of kits that first year.
THEN THE PROVERBIAL LIGHT WENT OFF! Like every other time in my life when I've felt like a fish out of water, I went to the local hobby shop and there I found one of the best books on model cars ever written: PAT COVERT'S book on the subject. I brought it home and burned up the pages reading that sucker over and over. Went back and bought Terry Jesse's book. Did the same. I did not build models until I thoroughly informed myself. Until I had enough information in me to make me feel a bit more comfortable.
Then quickly after that I started making real progress. Like Donn Yost said, I did not start out buying a lot of kits. I bought more INFORMATION (how-tos) and more tools. Quickly, I set up a small desk in the garage and worked there. My first airbrush was the Paasche H. I did not buy it right away. I had already been building for like 3 years, cutting my teeth on the rattle cans. The Paasche H is a beginner's perfect tool. Later I graduated to the Iwatas. But again, if I had to say what helped the most at the start was the INFORMATION. I did not have any other builders around me. I had no one to guide me. I was also warming up to telling other people I was returning to my childhood via building models.
I envy all those here who have never stopped building from the days of their childhoods. I think the normal route is to start young, and keep doing it regardless of what is going on in your life. It took me a while to realize that building models is not only fun, but for me it's also THERAPY. It helps relax me. It's more than a hobby for that reason, and the ever-increasing investment in time and money I've sunk into it is totally worth it. THE THERAPY HELPS ME! More than ever.
I see so many middle aged folks around me, moping about lamenting they don't have the time, energy, inclination . . . and making the time is every builder's responsibility. That simple. You want to build models, eh?
Doctor Cranky's formula:
1. Make time
2. Inform yourself (that includes reading the mags, books, watching videos--FEED YOUR HEAD--participate in the forum exchange)
3. Build at your skill level
4. Buy good tools right off the bat (trust me, you will save money in the long run)
5. You don't need a lot of fancy tools to build models, but if you want them, follow #4.
6. Don't build alone, build inside a community (forum and local clubs) and share your work. Sharing your work will save you time.
7. Keep an open mind about learning and about the feedback/criticism you receive. Go to shows and ask the builders of your favorite models your questions.)
8. Keep your first couple of models (later when you compare them to recent work, you'll be amazed by your progress)
9. Share your information, help others coming up.
AND #10 AND MOST IMPORTANT:
Remember to have fun. Building models is supposed to bring you joy and satisfaction. It's a hobby. Don't take it too seriously. But if you do take it seriously, keep your wits about you. Strive to be an ambassador to the hobby and pass down what you learn. And my styrene bring you many years of pleasure and satisfaction.
LONG LIVE STYRENE