A colleague of mine, Tim Compeau, wrote a few months ago about an essay of his that he reformatted for the web as part of a Digital History internship. For Tim, it was his first website.
I decided to follow in his footsteps and try to do the same myself. I also had never even attempted to write any HTML. But, armed only with w3schools.com's online HTML and CSS tutorials, and some patient Google searching when I got stuck, I was able to learn enough HTML and CSS to hand-code my first web page. It was a 7 part process, every bit of it free.
1) I chose the paper I wanted to encode: in my case, it was my undergraduate thesis: The United Irishmen's Allies.
2) I read Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig's, "Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web" (available totally free, online).
3) I added all the necessary HTML tags so that the browser could read my paper. (free at W3 Schools.com)
4) I snazzed it up a bit with some CSS, so that my page wasn't merely a wall of text. (free at W3 Schools.com)
5) I uploaded my pages to my webspace (available totally free, if you are a UWO student)
6) I had W3C Markup Validation Service check my code to make sure it was written properly so that various kinds of browsers would all be able to read it. (available totally free and instantly online - all you need is to provide the site with the URL address of your page).
7) I put a link to my website on my blog so that Google and the other search engines out there can find it!
You can take a look at what I came up with Here.
It took me about 50 hours of fiddling with HTML and CSS to put the equivalent of a 50 page paper online. But I'm confident it will be easier in the future, now that I've taken the time to learn how it all works. It's still got a few bugs (especially if you're viewing it with Internet Explorer), but it was definitely a worthwhile exercise.