For the absolute novice...
There's no doubt in my mind that the MSF course is the best way to go, however... as many people have found out, these courses are often filled up months in advance, and its no fun watching your bike gathering dust all summer. So here is Drew's formula for getting on the road ASAP.
1) If you haven't done it already, get your motorcycle temporary permit. I personally feel that the state is doing you a favor by insisting on special licensing for motorcycles. There is some some good info to be learned while studying for the written part of the test.
2) If you have access to a bicycle, use it to briefly reacquaint yourself with life on two wheels. Steering a bicycle is no different from steering a motorcycle (i.e. countersteering etc.). It also teaches you the need to put a foot down when you come to a complete stop (even more important when you have 500 lbs of hot iron between your legs) and how to get the bike to lean the way you want it to.
3) Rent or borrow a motorscooter. These little <125 cc critters may not have clutches, but they do have right hand operated throttles and the brakes are often similar to those on bigger bikes. They are also good for teaching you the basics of making turns from a stop, leaning in curves etc., without having to worry about feathering the clutch, etc.
4) When you feel you are ready, have a rider friend take your bike to some deserted parking lot. You will want someplace big enough that you can get the bike out of first gear, so preferably a place that has at least a 150 yards of straight asphalt. Don't forget to wear helmet, jacket and gloves. Have your rider buddy talk you through the clutch release process. Don't worry about stalling the bike the first few (15 - 20) tries. You'll get the feel of the "friction point" and balancing the throttle roll-on with letting the clutch go. Also make sure you understand how to stop the bike without stalling (i.e. squeeze brakes AND the clutch). Its amazing how many amateur instructors manage to overlook this last part...
5) Once you've got the basics of getting rolling down, move on to turns. Before you leave the parking lot, you really need to be able to make a smooth right and left turn in a radius that is equal to or less than the width of your standard roadway lane... I'm sure you understand the importance of this.
6) Practice "Quick Stops". The standard for road tests used to be stopping a bike moving at 20 MPH in less than 23 feet. You might not want to go for this your first day out; but you should get comfortable with a giving the front brake handle a good firm squeeze, and how it makes the bike respond. Work up to the "firm squeeze" gradually. Its harder to lock up the front wheel on a bike than most non-riders think. The front brake does 70% of the stopping on a motorcycle. Use the rear brake in addition to the front - but think of it more as an "assistant" helping the front do its work.
7) One way to distinguish yourself from 90% of the rookie riders out there is to be able to stop the bike and only put one foot down (may I suggest the left one..). This means that as the bike comes to a stop it needs to lean just slightly in that direction as your take your foot off the peg and put it on the ground. Stay in the parking lot until you are confident you've mastered this skill. Getting the bike rolling again is much easier and safer if you've only got one foot on the ground. Also, don't forget that some roadways are sloped in such a way that you have to turn the bike slightly "uphill" in order to achieve the left lean.
8) Have your rider friend go through the proper parking procedure - bike level, both feet on the ground. Hit the kill switch. Extend the jiffy stand - make sure it is locked down. Rest the bike on the stand. Turn the handlebars fully to the left. Grip the front brake lever and swing your right leg over the saddle. If he/she is nice they'll also give you some parking tips... remember there is probably a reason you see cycles parked "ass in" to curbs. Have a discussion about parking surfaces and why you see so many flattened drink cans wherever bikers congregate (hint - its not because they are alcoholics or litterbugs). Also you should get comfortable using your reverse gear - and as I see you have wisely elected not to make a Honda Goldwing for your first ride, this means paddling the bike backwards with your legs. Practice making tight turns while paddling the bike backwards.
9) Once you've mastered the above procedures its probably time to "get out on the highway." Although you don't want to be "looking for adventure" at this point. Whats the best environment to practice street riding? I wouldn't recommend quiet subdivision streets - although there is little traffic on these roads, they often have kids and dogs that do unpredictable things - the last thing a new rider needs to contend with. For obvious reasons the freeway is also a poor choice. Ideally you want semi-rural secondary roads. Agricultural areas have less driveways and traffic than strip malls and residential neighborhoods. Sunday mornings in industrial parks can be pretty good as well.
10) One of the most important things to do is to gradually build your confidence level. I've outlined some basic skills you need to develop, and trust me, you definitely CAN do all the things I've listed. But its best to take on one challenge at a time. The confidence you will build as you master each task will only help as you move on to the next one. Getting on a motorcycle can seem daunting at first, but don't forget that there are plenty of very skilled motorcycle riders out there who ain't exactly rocket scientists or brain surgeons.
11) Lastly, if you do manage to get out on the road, and even if you pass your motorcycle road test; still sign up for and take the MSF course. Its well worth the time and money; and can only help to further increase your enjoyment of motorcyling.