Real men make backups, if not sooner, then later. Hopefully real women make backups too, as at some point most of us experience what should not happen - on rare occasions the hard disk breaks down or you delete a file by mistake and discover it too late.
My best advice is to install a second hard disk and use it as backup. The chances of both disks breaking down at the same time are infinitesimal. I have two identical hard disks, and it only takes a few minutes to back up several hundred MB.
I make backups several times a day, whenever I have done something I would resent having to do again. I use Norton Commander for copying files. Or buy a ZIP drive, where each optical diskette can hold 100 MB or more. If you cannot afford this, then use diskettes and read the following.
For many years, Microsoft has packaged a program called backup with DOS, which is so impractical to use that most people don't bother. There are other programs for backup and DOS 6 includes a mini version of Norton's Backup.
My hard disk contains primarily program files and perhaps only 20% data files that I have created. As you already have the programs on original diskettes and can reinstall them again if something goes wrong, backup shouldn't be necessary for these. The only things you really need to back up are data files and files that initiate programs. The latter typically have the extension INI.
It is a good idea to keep programs and data separate in different directories. Make a sub-directory, e.g. C:\DATA\DOC for your WP documents. I've often had to install a program several times. If you know in which directories a program creates and stores its files, it is easy to delete the whole thing and begin again with a fresh installation - though Windows is special.
You have to get used to the fact that making backups and maintaining your hard disk and diskettes takes time. At first I didn't worry too much about it, hoping I would remember file names, hoping the hard disk would never be a problem, hoping I could find my way around my diskettes. I later learned my lesson ...
While writing the text of this guide, I copy to diskette about once an hour, and I do this with everything I do. For safety's sake. I have tried losing several hours' work. It is no joke.
I have set up directories on my diskettes that correspond to those on my hard disk so I am in no doubt where the files come from. I usually use Norton Commander as I typically work with several files at the same time but I also use PKZIP, a file-compression program. If you work with large files, it is a good idea to use a program that can pack the files in such a way that they don't take up too much space.
Making backups is very much an aspect of file management. I strongly recommend that you regularly spend some time going through your hard disk and your diskettes. Are there programs or data files on your hard disk that you seldom use? We often install a program to see what it can do and then forget about it. If you have installation diskettes for the program, delete it from the hard disk or pack the relevant directories with a compression program. The fewer files you have on your hard disk, the faster your PC works.
If your files are small enough to enable you to store them in directories that are no more than 1.44 MB, you can easily make a diskette for each directory. With a compression program (like PKZIP, ARJ or LHA) you may still be able to have a diskette for each directory, even though the directory is larger than 1.44 MB. A compression program can typically reduce files sizes by 50%.
I would also generally recommend that if you experiment with config.sys, you make running copies of C:\config.sys to C:\DOS.
C:\>copy config.sys c:\dos
so you can always copy it back to the root directory, possibly if you find you have to boot from diskette.