Like most of you, I never had formal training either. Although I once took a foie preparation seminar in Barcelona. Never made any of the recipes, of course...but I'm prone to whip-out the certificate whenever I have guests over and we're on our third Martinis.
Anyway...I learned to cook mainly via Cook's Illustrated magazine and it's most excellent collection of cookbooks (in particular, the "Best Recipe" series). I subscribed to Cook's when it began publishing (about 10 or 15 years ago) and have nearly the entire collection. I've just, throughout the years, read as much as possible and tried as many recipes as possible.
After a while and cooking and/or ruining hundreds of recipes, you just kinda notice common trends that weave their ways throughout most dishes. Plus, you also learn that it's the little things that often mean the difference between mediocre eats and great eats.
As for smoking Q, it was born out of necessity. I had lived in Spain for five years, and was jonesing for Q in a huge way. The only Q available here is a lone Tony Roma's in Madrid. Ok in a pinch, but I thought I could do better. Plus, I had just divorced and really needed to focus my mind onto something else.
So I started reading the Virtual Weber Bullet website, and The Smoke Ring website, and a few others. Then bought Smoke&Spice and Peace, Love & Barbecue. Eventually I bought a WSM through Amazon and shipped it here. The rest is history. A very yummy history.
BTW, let me say it again. I really like this SMF website and all the folk posting to the forum. If there should ever be a SMF Mass Smoke-o-rama taking place in the midwest, let us know.