I have been looking after my own Sourdough starter since May 2010, which is not really that long. On one of the Bertinet courses that I was on, I met an American lady who had a Sourdough that had been in the family for over 100 years. If that were mine, I'd be really worried every time I went on holiday!
My starter began its life on my most recent Bertinet course and several people had a hand in its inception- literally. Generally speaking, there are two types of Sourdough starter- stiff, and sloppy. This one is stiff, although when it's ripe, it's relatively fluid. The sloppy ones really are runny. Hamelmann (see Books) tells you how to convert between the two if the recipe that you are using calls for the type that you don't have.
For a usual week's bake, I work on the "Parts of Fours"- my starter, when stored, is 1600g. From this I will take:
400g for whatever I'm baking that week and also raising with yeast
400g for Sourdough loaves
400g for to perpetuate the starter
...which leaves 400g which it really pains me to share with the lads at the end of the garden- the worms in the compost bins. I console myself that they might enjoy the buzz from the alcohol in the starter, but I did try to bake the excess starter one week. It looked good, but didn't taste nice in any way at all.
My personal hint is that you don't worry too much when making the Sourdough starter- first, because there are so many methods that you can find, it's unlikely that it's that difficult. Second- I think that Yeast is a smarter culture than it's usually given credit for, and it can tell when you're nervous. While I'll disagree with the philosophy of "Showing the dough who's the boss", there is lots to be said of maintaining a respect and almost a symbiotic relationship with your dough and its prime mover, the yeast. Don't be scared of it, and it will be your friend. Just don't overheat it (until you bake it, of course, and then it'll know who's boss!
Here's a pic of a typical week's bake:
And this is this week's work in progress- a "refreshed" starter. Compared to the standard "wetter is better" dough used in bread recipes, it's really solid. I hope also to show what it's like after a week of fermentation.
I'm lucky enough to have a second fridge in the cellar- this means that I have have the 'stat set at 8 degrees. It appears that some of the micro-organisms that give Sourdough its distinctive flavour die off at lower temperatures. My Sourdough bread has certainly been much more tangy since the starter has been kept at this higher temperature.
After two days, this is how the "lump" above has changed:
It has a gorgeous aroma- a tang of yeast and, of course, Sourdough. Anyone who scrutinises digital image metadata will be able to see that this picture was actually taken three days after the one above, but please take my word for it- this starter has so much "get up and go" that it looked like this the previous day, as well. It will have calmed down and fallen back a bit by the time that I come to use it.
Keeping the starter in the fridge at 8 degrees keeps it under control somewhat. I believe that commercial bakers keep their Sourdough starter at room temperature, meaning that it takes even less time to refresh.