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Question: How to backup my Mac when it won’t start up

So my laptop just froze and turned onto a white/grey screen. After doing some research on how to back up my documents (I have exams :( right now and need my notes) I was told to restart my computer and hold in the command and R button, then click disk utility and have my external disk plugged in so I could back up my stuff. After verifying the disk and clicking “new image” on the tool bar as I was told, I then click save and get told that it is unable to create my external disk due to an invalid argument. Can someone help me out here to let me know what I can do to get my documents back?? I have time machine but haven’t back up since February (bad I know) but any help would be great thank you !!!

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Question: How to backup my Mac when it won’t start up